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May 20, 2016

This weekend, the business of pot comes to Philly

This weekend, hundreds of consultants and interested entrepreneurs will descend on Philadelphia for a seminar on how to obtain the registration licenses necessary to grow and/or sell marijuana in the state, now that medical marijuana has been legalized in Pennsylvania. 

The seminar, presented by the non-profit Marijuana Policy Project, will be held Saturday. 

But what does a seminar for purveyors of a complicated – especially, legally – substance like marijuana look like? 

To find out, we caught up with Brett Roper, founder and COO of Medicine Man Technologies, a Colorado-based consultant to individuals looking to get into the business of producing marijuana for legal-medical - and in some states, recreational – consumption. 

Roper, who will share his expertise in the business of growing and selling marijuana, said he plans to talk about the restrictions and opportunities present in Pennsylvania and offer avenues into the market. 

"We'll be talking to folks that have a passion and a desire to get into the industry, but they generally don't have that knowledge," he said. 

Pennsylvania is in an interesting place because, unlike other states, its medical marijuana law includes the availability of eight clinical research registration licenses to allow for the study of marijuana for medical applications. 

It's a unique approach.

"I've never, ever heard of that," said Roper during an interview Friday afternoon. 

Because marijuana has a long history of being illegal in the United States, he said, the FDA doesn't evaluate the drug's effects on people and there's no federal funding available for clinical research of the drug. 

"What we have now is all pretty anecdotal," said Carrie Roberts, licensing coordinator for Medicine Man Technologies, on the medical benefits of marijuana. "But, maybe, this won't be anecdotal anymore."

But getting a clinical research license is not as simple as saying, "I'd like to test the weed, please."

In order to acquire a license for research, an applicant must be registered as both a grower/processor of marijuana, and as a dispensary. And applicants must have a minimum of $15 million in capital and a contractual relationship with an academic clinical research center, among other requirements.

But that's not the only license available in the state. Entrepreneurs can apply for one of 25 licenses initially to be a grower/processor of marijuana. It cost $10,000 to apply and, if awarded, there's a $200,000 permit fee, an annual $100,000 renewal fee. And you must have $2 million in capital - $500,000 of which must be on deposit in a financial institution. 

Licenses for dispensaries face similar hurdles. Obtaining one of the 50 initial licenses requires capital of $150,000 at a financial institution, a $5,000 application fee, a $30,000 permit fee for each dispensary location and an annual renewal fee of $5,000. 

Sounds pricey, but it could be worth it.

Roberts, a former corrections officer and a former deputy sheriff, said the industry has proved incredibly lucrative in states with full legalization. 

In Colorado, she said, the cannibus industry has created many, many jobs – enough that the state has one of the lowest unemployment rates in America. In 2015, it brought in an additional $135 million in tax revenue on total marijuana sales of nearly $1 billion. In 2014, the industry paid so much tax, $40 million was returned to the state's schools to help support education in Colorado. 

Pennsylvania will enjoy some of that success, but not nearly as much, Roper said, since the state legislature only legalized oils, pills and topical forms of medical marijuana. The plant form remains illegal. 

Including plant forms of marijuana in the legislation would cut down illegal sales. Mostly, he said, that's because one if the 17 qualifying medical conditions is chronic pain, which can be used as a "mask" to allow people who want to use marijuana recreationally to be able to obtain the drug legally. 

"They qualified, so why not be able to do it legally?" Roper said. 

Yet, even with the restrictions, there is significant interest in producing and selling medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.

Roper's seminar, Pennsylvania Canna-Business Seminar, which will be held at the Logan Hotel on the Ben Franklin Parkway in Center City, is sold out. 

Tickets cost $500 a piece.