- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2014

DENVER — Those expecting to find hippies in tie-dyed T-shirts at the inaugural National Cannabis Industry Association’s Cannabis Business Summit last week were in for a rude awakening.

More than 1,000 attendees wearing button-down collars and ties gathered at the Colorado Convention Center for a two-day confab to discuss regulations, banking, product lines, insurance, energy efficiency, human resources and other issues related to the burgeoning marijuana industry.

Make no mistake: Marijuana is big business. Retailers in medical and legalized recreational marijuana are expected to generate more than $2.2 billion this year, and entrepreneurs nationwide are looking for a piece of the action.

That includes Carole Richter, a human resources consultant in Denver, who never attended a marijuana-related convention until last week.

Her first impression? “I’m seeing a lot of suits,” she said with a laugh.

Just like any other business, marijuana growers and retailers need help handling headaches related to hiring and firing, and that is where Ms. Richter comes in.

“If you have employees, you might need my help,” said Ms. Richter. “Every small-business owner, they don’t know what they don’t know. Now employees are banging on the doors trying to get into the business, but as more and more states legalize, it’s going to be more and more competitive. They not only need to attract the best people; now they have to think about retaining the best people by establishing a good corporate culture.”

Jeff Herbert, owner of Wind Orchard Energy in Denver, was promoting his solar and wind energy systems for marijuana growers.

“I’ve been following what the industry’s doing, and I read that their energy demands are out of the roof,” said Mr. Herbert. “I feel like there’s a real need. It’s a green energy for a green product and a green industry.”

It was also his first time at a marijuana-themed convention. He found out about it days beforehand and was able to finagle a booth, even though the event was officially full.

“We called, and all the booths were taken, and I said, ‘Oh, come on,’ and they said, ‘Let me make a phone call and I’ll call you back,’” said Mr. Herbert. “So somebody canceled and here we are.”

This isn’t the first gathering of marijuana-related businesses, but it may be the largest, said Patrick McManamon of Cannasure Insurance Services LLC in Cleveland.

He has attended 10 business-related pot gatherings in the past few years. This time, more than 100 business owners gathered for his seminar on insurance issues.

“You’re seeing people here who aren’t necessarily from the states with legalized medical cannabis,” said Mr. McManamon. “You see people where they’re interested in it because the plant has been a part of their life at some point, it may still be a part of their life, and they want to figure out if they can be a part of the industry.”

Marijuana businesses face the same issues as other industries, but with a few caveats. Like the jewelry industry, for example, moving the product can be fraught with risk.

“The transportation of product — it’s kind of like jewelers delivering rings and uncut diamonds,” said Mr. McManamon. “These guys are delivering product from the cultivation facility to the dispensary, so they can have a lot of product in the car. There’s no easy way to do that.”

Mark Goldfogel, CEO of C4EverSystems, brought with him an invention that he billed as a solution to the industry’s banking woes: a kiosk that accepts payments for marijuana sales, takes a photo of the buyer, records proof of age, and keeps the cash and receipts in a secure cash box for pickup by an armored car.

The kiosk even makes change.

“The banks can go back to regulators and say, ‘Hey, regulators, every dollar that I’m taking and putting in I can guarantee came from a legitimate transaction,’” Mr. Goldfogel said.

Mr. Goldfogel said he already has orders for 600 units.

The business-to-business events for marijuana used to be “really small,” he said, making the Denver conference unique.

“This has been fascinating,” he said. “This particular industry grew out of drug dealers. They were former pot sellers who came in with their backpacks and said, ‘I don’t want to get arrested anymore.’ And I’ve watched how those people have gentrified out, and business people have bought out their stores.”

Hence the NCIA’s conference motto: “Where Commerce Meets a Revolution.”

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