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Colorado Cannabis Convention fight will land in court

Inside the convention hall in April.
Inside the convention hall in April.

The original promoter of the Colorado Cannabis Convention, Raymond Springsteel, believes he could put on a concert on the moon.

Several people he used to work with think that's where he's already living.

While the busy booths, scantily clad dispensary girls and crowds exceeding 12,000 made the Colorado Cannabis Convention at the Colorado Convention Center April 2-3 look like a success to many people, behind the scenes things were as messy as spilled bong water.

The convention was the brainchild of Springsteel, who has a business called the Boulder Talent Agency. Over the phone, he talks a mile a minute, frantically describing how he envisions himself as Colorado's top concert promoter, a position gained through offering the lowest ticket prices possible. How he dreams of preventing drunk driving after concerts at Red Rocks by allowing camping in the parking lots. He says he could put a concert on the moon if he wanted to -- and he's serious.

In short: Raymond Springsteel has some big ideas.

In the beginning, he says, the Colorado Cannabis Convention was a way to prove a metaphysical point after talking all night to a former girlfriend about how he could accomplish anything he put his mind to. "I said that in six month, we could affect change in the state, people's lives and the whole country," he recalls. "I could make millions in revenue, but I don't care. I want to show [her] that something can be done if you want to do it."

So in November 2009, Springsteel started to make his dream reality. He hired "Krystal" (who asked that her real name not be used) to work in his tiny Boulder office, and got busy renting the convention center, soliciting vendors to fill it with booths, and organizing the artists and musicians crucial to executing his vision. Everything was going well, he remembers.

Krystal doesn't see it that way. By December, she says, things were in constant disarray. She was essentially doing all of the work needed to put on the convention while babysitting Springsteel. "His office was like a bedroom, it was disgusting," she recalls. "But needing a job and trying to survive, I stayed there."

At the end of February, both Springsteel and Krystal traveled to Los Angeles for HempCon, a massive gathering of cannabis-related vendors sponsored by Kush, a California-based company that was putting out pot magazines and also running DailyBuds.com. Seeing what Kush had done for HempCon, Springsteel decided that the success of the Colorado Cannabis Convention relied on getting the word out. "It made me realize it would be a good idea to put a lot of money into the PR of this thing," he says. "But I had exhausted my resources, so I asked Michael Lerner to make an investment to promote the show."

Lerner, the CEO of Kush, had met Springsteel in Denver around New Year's Eve, according to Bob Sealan, attorney for DailyBuds.com. By January 6, the two had begun e-mailing each other and having informal talks about what sort of role Lerner might have in the Colorado convention.

For Krystal, the trip to LA made her realize she couldn't work for Springsteel any more. He was spending money intended for the convention on himself, she says, and at one point asked her to call more vendors to get more "spending money" for the weekend. "I'm trying to put on the convention and all he is doing is spending the money," she remembers.

While Springsteel stayed in LA to sign up vendors, Krystal flew home from California on February 21 and promptly quit.

 

Some of the goods on display at the convention.
Some of the goods on display at the convention.

Lerner and Springsteel finally signed a promotional agreement on March 11, after more than a week of going back and forth over details. Under that agreement, the Boulder Talent Agency was to be the owner of the convention and DailyBuds.com would provide $50,000 in advertising money. The first $65,000 from ticket sales at the door would go to DailyBuds.com, and the next $35,000 to Boulder Talent Agency. Any revenue after that would be split 60/40 -- with DailyBuds.com getting the heftier share.

The contract also stated that since Boulder Talent Agency had collected booth revenue, it was responsible for all costs and expenses other than what DailyBuds.com had decided to pick up. When Springsteel signed the contract, he said he'd paid all deposits on the convention center but had yet to cover security, labor, insurance, overhead and decorator costs. If he couldn't make those payments, DailyBuds.com agreed to cover them and then get reimbursed from Springsteel's percentage of door receipts.

For Springsteel, this meant he still had artistic control of the event -- which was most important to him. He envisioned the convention as a cannabis love-where people from all sides of the issue could come together to open their minds with art and music.

"I agree with medical rights and I think it's very important for sick people to have access to that marijuana," he says. "But I personally believe that these issues are too much to discuss in one weekend. Learning the law, learning about cannabanoid meds for your condition -- it takes more time than what it takes to buy a pipe or a bong. Takes more time than just a convention. What might bring them together -- what they can they agree on -- is if they hear a song they like and that opens conversation. That is more valuable to the overall experience than the amount of people through the door. By creating an environment of art, you will set yourself apart from other conventions."

But pretty quickly, Springsteel says, Lerner made it clear that wasn't the type of convention he'd signed on to sponsor. "Michael wanted butts in the seats," he remembers. "He wanted flow-through."

It was around this time that Krystal, needing money and wanting to see the project through, came back to work for Boulder Talent Agency. She was at the office in late March when Lerner and some of the Kush folks came out to check on the progress of the convention -- and found things in disarray and Springsteel absent. "They came and he was nowhere to be found and they saw that not a cent had been put into it," Krystal recalls.

Lerner is blunter: "I felt extreme home makeover, convention edition. Absolutely nothing was done. I mean nothing. It was blank walls, no contracts, no payments. We had to start from dead scratch."

Lerner and Kush were hassling him for things like receipts for vendor payments and venue deposits, Springsteel remembers. The total cost of renting the center was $24,000; he'd already paid a $12,000 in deposit. On Monday, March 22, a second check he wrote to the center for $12,000 bounced. Springsteel says that all the money from vendors had already been spent on things related to the event and he was still waiting for money from Kush; he got an extension from the convention center staff until 5 p.m. March 26 to cover the bounded check, he insists.

But on the afternoon of March 26, according to court documents, DailyBuds.com filed a motion requesting an injunction against Boulder Talent Agency, claiming that Springsteel had failed to pay the deposit for the convention center and get insurance, was still accepting payments for vendors "in excess of $150,000," and had threatened DailyBuds.com employees and their family members. (Lerner says he can't discuss court actions because the case is pending.)

 

The convention event staff had the beat, despite the financial beat-down.
The convention event staff had the beat, despite the financial beat-down.

Daniel Foster, attorney for Lerner and DailyBuds.com, says the company gave Springsteel every opportunity to reconcile, but with the convention only ten days out, there wasn't much else they could do."If they hadn't jumped in then, the whole thing would have been a tremendous flop," he says. "It was a crazy situation."

The court gave full control of the event to DailyBuds.com, on the grounds that Boulder Talent Agency had breached the March 11 contract. The ruling also stated that Springsteel had to stay away from the convention altogether.

With just a week until the convention, DailyBuds.com hired Krystal and another former Boulder Talent Agency employee to continue organizing the event. They worked out of a downtown hotel with a DailyBuds crew to make sure everything came together. "I could just see it, 'Loser pot heads spend all the money and can't get it done'," Krystal says, laughing. "But those guys do what they say they are going to do and they are good people. They really had their stuff together."

According to Foster, Lerner wasn't just concerned about protecting the reputation of Kush and DailyBuds.com as sponsors of the event. He was concerned about the medical marijuana community. "They knew if they didn't support this thing, that it would have been a big failure and would have really hurt the MMJ industry in the state of Colorado for years to come," Foster says. "It would have been such a black eye."

Instead, the convention did fairly well. Lerner's "conservative" guess is that 12,000 people came through, looking at the booths of hundreds of vendors touting everything from pipe shops to dispensaries. It was enough of a success that Lerner now has plans to put on two cannabis-related conventions in Denver over the next year.

The first will span three days starting December 3, and will be what the April convention could have been had he had more time to prepare. "With what you saw in six days, wait 'til you see what we pull off in six months," he says. "The talent and stuff we have coming for the event will be nothing short of unbelievable." And in May 2011, he envisions a World Cannabis Convention filling most of the convention center and the Wells Fargo Theater with vendors from around the globe.

But in the meantime, there's still some clean-up to be done on the April 2010 convention. According to Foster, the company has filed a suit against Springsteel and is waiting for a final financial analysis before going ahead in district court. "I can tell you that the money that Kush received from this event is a drop in the bucket compared to what they spent," he says. "They lost a lot of money because the event became so expensive. Had there not been many of the issues with the original promoter, this would have been a much more profitable event."

For his part, Springsteel says he and his attorney have been preparing a case against Kush for civil court, and likely will file a lawsuit within the next sixty days. It's his "moral imperative," he explains, after seeing his idea of bringing people together with art replaced by strippers covered in pot leaves and panel discussions in the week leading up to the injunction. He thinks the Kush guys had an agenda to take over the convention from the start and lied about the threats of violence to make him look bad. "I'm an intense guy, there's long days," he explains. "I could have been calmer and been not so emotionally involved, but that's who I am."

And he wants his day in court. "It's not even the money, man. You don't want me to come out and tell the truth about how I feel," he says, before proceeding to tell how he feels. "There's an implied douchebaggery-acceptance in California. I just know that at the end of the day, I didn't steal from anybody or do anything improper. I didn't leave town, I don't have 150K in my bank or mattress or fucking anywhere. I never did, for that matter."


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