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Business: Grow up
Story by Heidi Kyser
As the medical marijuana industry sprouts, a new class of professionals is budding. Meet the ‘potrepreneurs.’
On a warm February evening, toward the end of a monthly work group on the medical cannabis business, Adam Bierman takes the floor — a cramped spot of it between a folding table and a presentation board set up in a printing warehouse on Highland Drive. Bierman is the president of The MedMen, a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based business consultancy for medical marijuana. His company is behind the event that has drawn 30 or so people, now seated in metal chairs facing him.
“If you don’t have real estate, you shouldn’t be here,” he barks at them. “You should be out looking for your building.”
Compared to the featured experts who spoke earlier — focusing on the industry's business potential — Bierman comes off as a bit of a jerk. But he owns it. Dressed in a navy-blue suit that likely cost more than a few cars parked outside, he’s a younger version of Joaquin Phoenix. His most unnerving quality is how smart he sounds.
Take the real estate problem he’s hammering on. His audience is curious about the 40 medical marijuana dispensary registrations up for grabs in Clark County. Nevada’s new medical marijuana law requires applicants to submit proof they’ve bought or leased a physical location for their business. Although the state’s health department hasn’t set an application deadline yet, insiders expect it to be early summer. Closing a property deal between now and then would be tricky. So would completing the rest of the 300-plus page application.
Enter consultants such as Bierman. With three dispensaries and a cultivation network operating in Southern California, where conflicting state and local laws put them in jeopardy of being shut down at any time, MedMen turned their attention to consulting. They say they have around 100 clients across the country, 13 in Nevada. The 14-person firm offers help with just about anything required to start a medical marijuana business — from licensing to operations, logo design to legal advice — and what it can’t do, it outsources. Bierman’s fee is $400 an hour; lower-level work costs less.
“If you have real estate already,” he says, “be prepared to spend $100,000 to $150,000 to get it all in.”
Client Kathie Gillespie, owner of A&B Printing, got in on the ground floor. She needed a consultant to put together financials and dig up crime stats and other information for the community impact statement. Of the four companies she interviewed, MedMen stood out. “Adam doesn’t try to BS you,” she says.
Bierman represents the professionalized and capitalized interests converging on medical marijuana and, thus, Nevada. There’s gold in them thar growhouses. A report prepared for Nevada Senator and cannabusiness advocate Tick Segerblom for the 2013 Legislature puts the economic impact of the business at $33 million in year one alone. The rush, believe those who’ve long advocated for legalization, is what’s drawing potrepreneurs such as Bierman.
“It’s gone from small groups of individuals, co-ops and patient associations helping each other to big-money interests,” says Michael McCullough of W.E.C.A.N., the Wellness Education Cannabis Action Network. “The people in the trenches are largely being shut out.” It’s a not-so-subtle shot at slick operators such as Bierman.
Bierman takes criticism in stride. Nevada, he says, will be the marijuana capital of the U.S., and his fear is waking up one day to find that he missed the chance to become the Bill Harrah of pot.
“I’m polarizing in the sense that I’m not shy about saying, ‘This is a business,’” Bierman says. “We want to take it out of the alleys and put it front and center, so that it can be taxed and benefit the community.”
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