Spotlight on GrowSD: The Highs (and Lows) of Legal Weed

Posted: May 24, 2017

By Audrey Green

The cannabis industry is booming. Last year, Colorado passed the $1 billion mark for recreational marijuana sales, and some experts estimate that L.A.’s medical market alone produces similar returns – and the fun hasn’t even started, yet. Pending regulatory approval in January, the Golden State is poised to corner the legal weed market, so Startup San Diego has dedicated an entirely new event track to keep San Diego Startup Week (SDSW) attendees on the cutting edge of the growing legal weed industry.

Joe Moreno heads up SDSW’s “GrowSD” series of lectures and workshops. The Apple software engineer-turned-entrepreneur founded the San Diego Cannabis Business Group, a networking community of nearly 1,200 of the county’s best bud business tycoons – and much of his weed biz intel will surprise you.

It’s Serious Business

“Cannabis comes with a stoner-culture mentality, and some associate the industry with a bunch of college kids getting blazed and goofing off,” Moreno says. “That stigma is similar to equating beer with frat parties, but in reality, the executives at companies like Anheuser-Busch are professionals who manage and operate multi-billion-dollar businesses.”

Similarly, county cannabis companies are surprisingly corporate, boasting prime business real estate office space, employee benefits, and even – gasp – cubicles.

“They’re professional,” Moreno says. Employees aren’t permitted to burn blunts in common areas or roll joints at their desks. If anyone indulges, like in any other office, it’s by taking a discreet pull from a vape pen. “There’s just barely a hint of the product in the air.”

It’s (Borderline) Legal

Recreational marijuana has been legalized in California, but it remains illegal on the federal level, which has resulted in some seriously complicated accounting and legal hurdles for local bud businesses.

“It’s dysfunctional,” Moreno admits, but some of his speakers have found ways to mitigate the risks of entering the industry. He has carefully selected local finance and law experts to help SDSW attendees navigate the industry’s complex regulatory landscape.

The politics of marijuana remain hazy, but the industry is backed by prominent members of the scientific community: “As much as I searched, I could not find a documented case of death from marijuana overdose,” wrote CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, a former neurosurgeon, in his landmark 2013 article “Why I Changed My Mind on Weed.”

Gupta’s research had a profound impact on Moreno. “No one has ever died from an overdose, I found that hard to believe,” he said. “I had never touched it in my entire life, but you can’t argue with science.”

If you’re still wary on legality, it’s no problem, mon. The cannabis industry has grown beyond the bud, and many local business have found success producing ancillary products that never “touch the leaf” – which Moreno defines as growing, harvesting, distributing or selling marijuana. He has assembled the county’s foremost experts on that front, too.

Women Dominate

“It’s an interesting industry, probably one of the first or few multi-billion dollar industries that isn’t dominated by men,” Moreno says. “Nurses tend to be caregivers for medicinal purposes, and they tend to be women.”

To highlight the fairer sex’s contributions to the industry, Moreno has assembled a panel of entrepreneurial females who have made significant contributions to the area’s cannabis boom.

The takeaway: There’s room for everyone to grow with cannabis.