This Labor Day week my husband and co-founder of our not for profit, Bronzeville Urban Development and his trusty sidekick me, are out in San Francisco to raise awareness and hopefully money. The awareness is the possibility of using medical cannabis cultivation and dispensing as a social enterprise; raising funds to do just that is our other reason for being here.
There has been a frenzy of activity in Illinois since the legislature announced the draft rules for marijuana cultivation and dispensing. Cannabis is still illegal according to federal laws. Why then are so many people ready to sink big money into this iffy proposition? The answer is simple. It’s a “green rush” much as the gold rush that occurred in 1848 in California. Over 300,000 people flocked to California with the hopes of staking a claim. The term ‘49ers comes from this influx of the get rich quick bunches. I guess we could call this most recent group the “Fourteens”. Mind you, these modern day prospectors are wearing designer suits and looking very much like an updated version of Mad Men, no overalls in this flock and not a bead wearing, long hair sporting version of the 1960’s in the batch as far as I have seen and I’ve been to a few of the recent conferences, meetings, town halls, etc.
The applications for both cultivation and dispensing are now available on line. Submission starts on September 8th and ends on the 22nd. Completing this application takes herculean effort and submitting it takes Midas’ gold. To be precise for the cultivation application you have to put a cool .5million in an account, secure a surety bond for 2million and have another $100,000 on hand to pay for the license if you are one of the lucky 22 to be chosen to cultivate. The stakes are a little less steep for getting a dispensary license but none the less it’s an expensive proposition. This has led to major discussions about how few minorities will have a shot at securing a license. In all honesty there are just not that many minorities with that kind of disposable income.
In the early days of legalization in Colorado, families, friends and even not so friendly allies hocked belongings, took equity out of their homes and took out loans to get into the biz. They made up the first group of investment daredevils. For some it has paid off mightily and for others not so much. That’s what investing is all about. Not everyone who traveled to California struck it rich during the gold rush days and it’s going to be the same with the “green rush”.
What made us decide to jump into this murky pool with a ton of voracious sharks was our belief that cultivation of medical marijuana is possibly the best chance we have of putting together a financial base to fund social good within communities. Grant funding at this point in history is almost like hunting for sunken treasure at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Good luck with that.
In addition to being sick of chasing grants, we have some experience in cultivation. I use the term “we” very loosely. I can’t even grow artificial plants. My husband comes with a history of farming and gardening and aquaponics. We have friends in this venture with us who are master growers and one who is family and cultivated medical cannabis in Colorado. We hope to remain friends with all parties involved during and at the end of this venture. This process is stressful and over the next three weeks it is going to be brutal.
So this brings me to our trip to San Francisco. History relates that the gold rush turned San Francisco from a hamlet of 200 in 1846 to a boomtown of over 36,000 by 1852. Next week about 2,000 people who are concerned with the ever widening gap between the haves and the have nots and anxious for social change will converge on Fort Mason in San Francisco for SoCap 14. Not exactly going to change the demographics of the city but may help us to chart a new path for the cannabis industry. If we succeed, a corporation will emerge dedicated to turning the “Green Rush into Social Good Gold”. With the help of head of the Governor’s task force on social enterprise, Marc J. Lane we will be putting forth a novel approach based on workplace democracy and social impact. Like the gold rush of 1849 prompted the growth of associated technology and industry, the “green rush” will do the same and we intend to foster the growth of other socially responsible businesses and social services. Cultivation and dispensing are only the tip of the business iceberg. There are so many other avenues to explore. We’ve thought of a few already but that’s a story for later.
Please stay tuned over the coming week as we navigate through talking to impact investors and learning as much as possible about using the “Green Rush” for “Social Impact Gold”.