Denver is the Hollywood of cannabis, according to KC Stark. As for Colorado Springs, he sees it as Silicon Valley -- which is why he decided it was the perfect place to serve as a base for his latest venture, MMJ Business Academy.
The academy's mission, Stark explains, is to break down and explain the new and complicated laws and licensing procedures for people looking to get into the pot industry.
"We saw the need for comprehensive understanding of that marijuana monopoly game. It's three-dimensional; it moves and changes. It's brutal," Stark says.
While speaking at the Colorado Cannabis Summit last month, Stark emphasized the importance of having a plan in order to survive the savage marijuana industry. You have to know the game and you have to know yourself, he said. And the MMJ Business Academy is designed to help people gain that knowledge.
The school has several ways to accomplish this goal. One option is a private sit-down with Stark; the ninety-minute sessions can be scheduled with just a day's notice. There are also eight-hour seminars scheduled every few weeks, with parties after the sessions so that attendees can socialize and network with other entrepreneurs. The Academy offers marijuana grow classes, too, as well as business and regulatory support.
Jim Comerford, a Vail businessman, decided to do the personal intensive. Comerford owns several businesses around Vail, and after hearing about the success that a friend's son was having in the marijuana industry, he decided to start his own business.
"He gave me a good foundation to work off of. He told me a lot about the licensing, about the difficulty and challenges ahead," Comerford says. "He warned me, way in advance, that politics always plays a very big part in new businesses and grow businesses." Comerford's retail marijuana operation, High Society, is expected to open in the Eagle-Vail area later this year.
The opportunities in the marijuana business will continue to grow, Stark says. He believes federal legalization of cannabis could come within the next four years, since both public and political opinion shows a trend in that direction. In late May, for instance, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill that blocks the Drug Enforcement Adminsitration from attacking marijuana businesses that are legal under state law.
But the industry still faces numerous challenges, including the obstacle to banking, which Colorado is working to overcome. There are also environmental challenges. Growing marijuana takes a lot of energy and water. The Academy has found a way to overcome this issue, Stark says, by using Front Range Aquaponics to recycle its water, making the business 90 percent water-sustainable.
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And Stark has found other ways to keep his business sustainable. Studio A64 is an offshoot of the Academy. The first cannabis social club in the United States, he says, it has survived two cease-and-desist letters, as well as two public hearings, in order to keep its doors open in Colorado Springs. From 6 p.m. until midnight Wednesday through Saturday, those 21 and up can bring their own cannabis and consume it at Studio A64.
The Academy's next seminar, "How to Open Your Own Canna-Business," takes place on June 21; the cost is $299. (For more information, click here.) Following the seminar is an after-party at Studio A64: After you work hard, you get to play hard.