Insiders share their stories from the 'fastest-growing industry in America'; marijuana isn’t included in mainstream jobs reports, but another report says pot outsold Girl Scout cookies in 2015
Some have messy buns and sleeve tattoos. Some have salon cuts and $2,000 suits.
Some are joining blue-collar unions, getting health benefits as they grow and sell a plant they’ve long loved. Some say they never touch it, but they’re standing guard outside shops and fiercely lobbying legislators in Sacramento to ensure that others can.
As public support and legalization of cannabis spreads, those who’ve quietly worked in California’s medical marijuana industry are slowly emerging from the shadows. And professionals who never would have considered joining the industry a couple of years ago are leaving behind traditional careers in law, real estate and finance as they flock to what they see as the next big boom.
“The fastest-growing industry in America is marijuana, period,” said Jake Bhattacharya, who recently quit his information technology job to open a cannabis testing lab in Upland.
With medical marijuana legal in 25 states and recreational use allowed in four, pot outsold Girl Scout Cookies in 2015, according to a report from Marijuana Business Daily, a 5-year-old news website covering the industry.
Pot retail sales are expected to hit $4 billion this year, and Marijuana Business Daily is projecting that number could nearly triple by 2020.
The actual size of the industry may already be much larger, too, since California hasn’t tracked its massive medical marijuana market in the 20 years since it’s been legal. And it could skyrocket if voters here and a handful of other states approve recreational use Nov. 8.
The lack of reliable data coupled with the “niche” aspect of the industry is why cannabis — and the connected marijuana jobs — isn’t included in mainstream economic and jobs reports, according to Christopher Thornberg, director of the Center for Economic Forecasting and Development at UC Riverside.
“It’s still too fly-by-night,” Thornberg said.
California’s Employment Development Department doesn’t track the diverse daisy chain of cannabis jobs either. And several recruitment firms said they don’t deal with the industry.
Job seekers and employers instead turn to Craigslist or specialized sites. There’s a recent post on WeedHire.com for a $75,000-a-year account manager at GFarmaLabs, which makes marijuana products in Anaheim, and one on 420careers.com for growers and trimmers at Buds & Roses dispensary in Los Angeles.
Working in the industry isn’t without complications.
It remains illegal at the federal level, which limits access to financial services and causes lingering concerns over raids by federal authorities.
California’s market is also emerging from two decades of nearly nonexistent regulation and intense battles with local governments who were less than welcoming to “potrepreneurs.” That legacy means newly licensed shops often still rely on growers and manufacturers in the gray market, and they struggle to survive alongside unlicensed operators who aren’t paying the same hefty taxes.
Then there’s the glaring disapproval that comes from shrinking (per the polls) but vocal pockets of the public. Fear of backlash from conservative family members or future business associates kept a number of cannabis workers from speaking on the record for this story.
“Let’s face it, of course there is a stigma,” said Juliet Murphy, a career coach who runs Juliet Murphy Career Development in Tustin.
Murphy expects that it would raise eyebrows for more traditional employers to see a weed industry job on someone’s résumé. However, Murphy sees it as less of an issue going forward as the industry becomes more mainstream and as millennials continue to transform the workforce.
“There are still a lot of kinks that are being worked out. But I think this presents an opportunity for a lot of jobs, provided that people do it right,” Murphy said. “I think in the next 5 to 10 years, it’s going to be huge.”
Ads running to legalize marijuana in three states
By Carl Marcucci
In November, voters in Colorado, Washington and Oregon will consider legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Although similar initiatives have failed in the past, this time the groups fighting to legalize pot are well-organized, professional and backed by high-dollar donors willing to outspend the competition, reports Raycom News Network.
In Colorado, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) has produced several ads that say marijuana is healthier than alcohol. The campaign’s website points to medical studies that claim marijuana, unlike alcohol, has not been linked to cancer, brain damage, addiction or high healthcare costs.
CRMLA was given nearly $1.2 million from the Marijuana Policy Project, a DC-based lobbying group, as well as more than $800,000 by Peter Lewis, the founder and chairman of Progressive Insurance. Lewis has been a vocal proponent of marijuana legalization for several years and donated millions to legalization efforts around the country.
In an online video ad campaign, CRMLA has young adults explaining to their parents they prefer marijuana to alcohol. In one of the ads, titled Dear Mom, a 20-something woman tells her mother marijuana is “better for my body, I don’t get hung-over and honestly I feel safer around marijuana users.”
In Washington, rather than comparing marijuana to alcohol, New Approach Washington (NAW) is focusing on legalization, arguing outlawing cannabis does more harm than good, by wasting tax dollars on law enforcement while letting gangs control the money. She describes the possible benefits of legalization through saved law enforcement dollars and extra tax revenue.
The TV spot has a professional/executive looking woman, “I don’t like it personally, but it’s time for a conversation about legalizing marijuana. It’s a multi-million dollar industry in Washington state, and we get no benefit.”
These efforts appear to be working. In Washington, 50% of voters say marijuana should be legal while 38% say it should not, according to an Elway Research poll. And in Colorado, a Denver Post poll showed 51% of Coloradans were in favor of legalization, while 41% opposed it.
In Washington, the effort to legalize marijuana is being fought with a bankroll of between $4 and $5 million, according to the Raycom News Network story. NAW used those funds to put $1 million into television advertising during August, and hope to put triple that amount into the weeks preceding the November vote.
In total, groups in Colorado fighting to get marijuana legalized have a war chest of $2.5 million.
The campaigns are especially targeting women ages 30 to 55, whom tend to be less supportive of legalization and regulation than men.
The only visible group opposing the marijuana ballot, SMART Colorado, has been given less than $200,000 – most of it from Save Our Society, a Florida-based anti-drug group.
RBR-TVBR observation: Interesting that the Chairman of Progressive Insurance is donating so much money in this legalization effort. Perhaps legalizing it would create fewer accidents/injuries from police chases and save the insurance industry money? We doubt drivers with the stuff in their car would try to flee if it’s no more illegal than a pack of cigarettes. Who knows, but Progressive is a big corporation and Lewis seems to not be concerned about sticking his neck out on this.
Chicago pot farm: Police chopper finds marijuana farm worth $10 million in city's far South Side
CHICAGO (AP) — In Chicago, a bustling urban metropolis where skyscrapers are as likely to sprout up as anything a farmer might plant, someone decided there was just enough room to grow something a little more organic: Marijuana.
The plants grew even taller than the tallest Chicago Bulls. However, just days before the crop on a chunk of land the size of two football fields would have been ready to harvest, a police officer and county sheriff's deputy in a helicopter spotted it as they headed back to their hangar about three miles away.
On Wednesday, a day after the discovery of the largest marijuana farm anyone at the police department can remember, officers became farmers for a day as they began to chop down about 1,500 marijuana plants that police said could have earned the growers as much as $10 million.
No arrests had been made as of Wednesday, and police were still trying to determine who owns the property that housed the grow site on the city's far South Side. But police said they were hopeful that because of the size of the operation, informants or others might provide tips about those involved, including a man seen running from the area as the helicopter swooped low.
James O'Grady, the commander of the department's narcotics division, said they've never seen anything like it before, in part because Chicago's harsh winters mean growers have a lot less time to plant, grow and harvest marijuana than their counterparts in less inclement places such as California and Mexico. The bumper crop was likely planted in spring, O'Grady said.
Add to that the urban sprawl: there are few spots in Chicago where such an operation could go unnoticed because of all the buildings, roads and residents. The growers took pains to ensure their crop was largely hidden by a canopy of trees and surrounding vegetation.
"Somebody put a lot of thought into it," O'Grady said. "But they probably didn't anticipate the helicopter."
Chicago Police Officer Stan Kuprianczyk, a pilot, said police helicopters flew "over it all the time," to and from their hangar, without spying the grow site. Yet somehow, a number of factors came together to allow Cook County Sheriff's Deputy Edward Graney to spot the plants.
"We had the right altitude, the right angle, the right sunlight, and I happened to be glancing down," said Graney. He said he initially spotted five plants or so through the trees before he asked Kuprianczyk to circle around for a closer look.
"We just happened to be right over a small hole in the trees and we looked down," Kuprianczyk said.
They also happened to have the right training, Graney said, explaining that just a few weeks earlier a much smaller operation in suburban Chicago prompted them to fly over and videotape the scene so they might be able to recognize marijuana if they ever saw it from the air again.
So, by the time Graney spotted the marijuana plants, which are a much brighter shade of green than the surrounding vegetation, he had a pretty good idea what he was looking at.
Superintendent Garry McCarthy, whose officers are more used to intercepting shipments of marijuana grown elsewhere or discovering hydroponic growing operations inside buildings, said the discovery of the marijuana is significant in a larger fight against street violence.
Those involved with narcotics, whether it is marijuana, heroin or cocaine, purchase firearms with their profits and have shown they're willing to use them to protect their business, he said.
"That's where the violence comes in, the competition for the markets," he said.
Chicago decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana
Illinois is a big state, what about everyone else? -UA
(Reuters) - People caught with small amounts of marijuana in Chicago will be ticketed instead of arrested under a new ordinance passed by the city council on Wednesday, as the third largest U.S. city became the latest to support more lenient penalties for using the drug.
The council voted 43-3 in favor of the measure, which was backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Under the ordinance, police in Chicago can issue a written violation with a fine of between $250 and $500 for possession of 15 grams (0.5 ounces) of marijuana or less rather than make an arrest.
More than a dozen U.S. states and several large cities have already taken similar steps. Two states - Colorado and Washington - will ask voters in November whether to go further and legalize recreational marijuana.
Supporters said the Chicago measure, which takes effect on August 4, would help raise revenue for the city, save money and free up police to pursue more serious crimes. However, council member Roberto Maldonado, an opponent, said people will interpret the law as "a license to smoke marijuana in public."
Chicago Police Department statistics indicate that last year there were 18,298 arrests for possession of less than 10 grams (0.35 ounces) of marijuana, according to a statement from the mayor's office.
Each case now involves about four police officers - two arresting and two transporting officers - and places an additional burden on the Cook County court and jail system, the council said. Most cases are dismissed.
The issue of deploying police to handle more serious crimes is particularly pressing this year in Chicago, which has seen a 37 percent spike in its murder rate.
"I want a full court press on the street," Emanuel said, adding that Chicago "cannot afford to take our officers off the streets for hours at a time only to see over 80 percent of the marijuana cases dismissed in court."
Supporters of the city ordinance argued that marijuana arrests disproportionately targeted minorities and a conviction could make it difficult to find a job.
"If you had been white and/or privileged, a small amount of marijuana had already been decriminalized, because the only people who have been arrested for these types of crime have been black and brown individuals," said Alderman Howard Brookins.
Fifteen states have reduced the penalty for possession of limited amounts of marijuana, according to Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, a group lobbying to legalize the drug.
Other cities with similar policies include Seattle, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, as well as university towns like Champaign, Illinois, and Madison, Wisconsin. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.
Opponents of decriminalization say it condones drug use and results in a lost opportunity for intervention to stop it.
The Chicago ordinance would not halt arrests in all cases. Anyone caught with marijuana on school grounds or in a park would still be subject to arrest. Children under the age of 17 and anyone without proper identification could also be arrested.
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Evanston eases marijuana penalties
By Jennifer Brandel | Nov. 29, 2011
So do the fuzz carry scales to verify? -UA
The Evanston city council voted unanimously in favor of the ordinance Monday night. Councilman Donald Wilson cited two main reasons for it.
"One is to reduce the load and burden on the criminal justice system, but also with regard to someone who is guilty of such a violation, not to put such a dark mark on somebody's permanent record," Wilson said.
Illinois state law punishes those with small amounts of pot with up to six months in prison and a $1,500 fine. But Evanston offenders will instead face a city fine between $50 and $500.
Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said the idea first crossed her radar a few months ago. A friend called her up after hearing an NPR story about a similar law in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Tisdahl said the more she thought about it, the more sense it made.
The National Organization on the Reform of Marijuana Laws spokesperson Allen St. Pierre said 14 states and about 50 cities around the country have similar marijuana laws. St. Pierre said he's not surprised Evanston would take up this ordinance because college towns are among the leaders in this trend.
Alan Cubbage is the vice president for university relations at Evanston's Northwestern campus. He said he was surprised to hear of the ordinance, and he doesn't think that it will have much of an impact on the university's approximately 15,000 students in Evanston.
"At least to my knowledge there has not been a real problem or concern in terms of Northwestern students being arrested for possession of marijuana," Cubbage said.
Mayor Tisdahl said she hopes the ordinance ultimately helps young people get jobs as small amounts of marijuana possession won't result in them having a criminal record.
Cook County and some Chicago alderman are also pushing for similar measur