With the passage of Ballot Measure 2 last month, a new industry has opened up in Alaska for entrepreneurs looking to cash in on cannabis.
Recreational marijuana will be legalized in Alaska on Feb. 24, and the green rush has already begun. Three trade shows are planned for Anchorage this spring. Cannabis associations are taking shape. And entrepreneurs are anxious for the regulatory process to begin, as the laws will ultimately define what marijuana businesses look like in Alaska.
Attorneys consulting would-be marijuana entrepreneurs are some of the first industry professionals out of the gates.
California attorney Ben Adams has branded himself as Alaska Pot Attorney on Facebook, and he has lofty goals for his practice. "The industry is expanding exponentially," Adams said. "I intend to be … the face of legal marijuana in Alaska."
Adams is also a co-sponsor "The Rush Is On," a cannabis trade show coming to Anchorage.
Originally from British Columbia, Adams worked as a public defender in Alaska for six years. He then moved to California, where he works in both criminal defense and with medical marijuana businesses. Now, marijuana is bringing Adams back to the state.
"Since legalization in Alaska, I probably haven't slept more than 20 hours," Adams said. "I'm going on pure adrenaline and whiskey and coffee."
Adams' advice for entrepreneurs? "Just assemble a great team. Get a good lawyer. Get a CPA. Get the people behind you who can help do things that you don't know how to do."
Also, "If you don't have access to at least $100,000, you shouldn't be thinking about this," Adams said.
Anchorage attorney Lance Wells is also eyeing the marijuana market, forming the Alaska Cannabis Law Group, LLC., alongside attorney David Schlerf.
"My phone has been ringing off the wall since the election," Wells said. He has been involved in marijuana litigation for years, he said. The Alaska Cannabis Law Group's website advertises assistance in both business development plans and criminal defense.
So far, Wells is helping prospective business owners set up corporations, he said. In some cases, he is talking people down from ideas that are illegal or in a legal grey area. He said he has nearly a dozen clients, with new ones signing on every day.
His advice to prospective business owners? It's not going to be easy, nor cheap. "It's a business like any business," Wells said.
He also advises Alaskans not to start marijuana grow operations now, before the law is in effect. "If you don't need me now, you'll need me later," he joked.
Claiming a name
Meanwhile, dozens of marijuana-related business names are popping up in the state database: Alaska Cannabis Tours; Juneau Cannabis Consulting; Phatt Phreddies Marijuana Dispensary; The Cannabis Cache.
Not everyone is keen to discuss their plans, though. Numerous prospective business owners declined to have their names used in a story. Some cited perceived repercussions from employers. Others said they feared conflicts with federal law could cause legal issues. Others didn't want to disclose their potential business plans and give competitors insight into their ideas.
Wells said a "taboo factor" plays into such hesitancy. "A lot of mainstream business people (are) getting into this … and a lot of people don't want to be in the limelight."
Alaskans won't know what shape the regulations may take for months. On Feb. 24, marijuana will be legal, and the state will have nine months to craft regulations. Whether regulations are shaped under the Alcohol Beverage Control board or a newly created Marijuana Control Board is up to the Legislature to decide. The state will begin accepting marijuana business licenses in February 2016.
Alcohol Beverage Control Board director Cynthia Franklin said the agency was fielding a steady stream of calls and emails from Alaskans. Some are interested in helping shape the regulatory process, others looking to procure business licenses. The agency already has a Frequently Asked Questions section of its website that will be updated as questions continue to flow in.
Influence in the process
A common cry from entrepreneurs was to be a part of that regulatory process. David Sanden, co-founder of Alaska Cannabis Project LLC, wrote the corporation was "anxiously awaiting" the beginning of crafting regulations. What shape his business will take -- for now, disclosing only that he intends to be involved in "multiple facets" of the industry -- will depend on what those regulations look like, he wrote.
An association has formed with the sole purpose of influencing the regulatory process: The Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation. CRCL writes on its website its goal is to "work closely with the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board as well as state and local legislators to enact Cannabis regulations that serve the best interest of the Alaskan people, the Alaskan economy and consumer groups alike."
Bruce Schulte, spokesperson for CRCL, hopes to operate a marijuana business, but "it really depends on how the rules shake out."
Schulte is also part of another nonprofit just gearing up, the Alaska Cannabis Industry Association. The Industry Association seeks to be "the primary advocate for the industry once businesses start to get permits and go into operation," Schulte said. The nonprofit organization will also have a lobbyist, Schulte said.
Another organization has formed catering specifically to women. Women Grow -- Alaska is chapter of a national organization, was started by Kim Kole, an Anchorage teacher who was a vocal proponent of Ballot Measure 2..
"The Canna-business is so male-dominated … (the organization is meant) to encourage and support women who would like to be involved," Kole said. "This isn't male-bashing at all. This is just a place where women feel comfortable."
Despite focusing on women entrepreneurs, men are welcome in the group, Kole said. A third of attendees at the group's October meetings were men, she said. Meetings are once monthly, and each month features a different speaker.
Like other entrepreneurs, Kole, who said she intends to have "some kind of business," hopes to influence the regulatory process as it gets underway.