Newsweek may be abandoning print at year's end, but the venerable magazine remains an actual publication -- and its current cover story, "The New Pot Barons," shines a light on a major player in the Colorado weed biz: the Medical Marijuana Industry Group. The resulting article doesn't always cast MMIG in a flattering light, but a spokesman isn't complaining.
At the top of a piece featuring the subhead "Businessmen Bank on Marijuana," writer Tony Dokoupil writes about Denver "drug dealers" putting money into envelopes. But these aren't your typical pushers. The group includes a "finance veteran, two children of the Ivy League, multiple lawyers, and the son of a police chief," joined by "a Pulitzer Prize-winning communications consultant, two state lobbyists, and a nationally known political operative. And the guest of honor: a state senator who likes the look of those envelopes being stuffed."
The participants aren't named, but as is clear from subsequent conversations about "a youth drug-abuse-prevention program and a bill to define 'drugged' driving," they are clearly industry heavyweights of the sort who make up the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, whose Norton Arbelaez serves as Dokoupil's de facto tour guide through much of the article.
The piece documents how Arbelaez and Jon Salfeld, pals from Tulane Law School, moved to Colorado in 2009 and set about pushing legislation that simultaneously professionalized the industry and wiped out half of it, all in the name of potentially monstrous profits and buy-ins from the likes of Philip Morris, which is rumored to have leased warehouse space in these parts.
When Dokoupil floats the prospect of whether "Colorado's burgeoning pot business could be the basis for a third huge, blood-sucking vice industry, dependent on converting kids and supporting heavy users," Arbelaez shrugs off the possibility, stressing that his peers "have families, and they employ families. They're about helping people, not hurting people." But the reporter has his doubts while hanging with the high-rollers at the Churchill Bar after an MMIG board meeting. "As a Bond-girl waitress delivered round after round of top-shelf conviviality and an electronic joint prototype appeared," he writes, "it was easy to see my hosts thirty years from now, when legalization is here, sitting in the same woozy affluence -- fatter, balder and famously rich."
What does MMIG think of this portrait? I reached out to the group's spokesman, Michael Elliott, and asked if the organization was disappointed by occasional implications that ganjapreneurs are more interested in profits than patients; if the piece featured any notable inaccuracies; and how MMIG would describe its mission. Elliott responded with a statement that really only answered the last question directly, but nonetheless suggests that the resulting profile came out just fine from the group's perspective.
Here's Elliott's statement:
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Along with other Colorado trade groups, we have been proud to help promote Colorado's medical cannabis regulatory model in the national press, including most recently in Newsweek and 60 Minutes. These stories demonstrate that medical cannabis can be sold in a manner that compassionately and efficiently serves patients.
This new industry has buoyed the local economy, with tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs, and has provided for thousands of families statewide.
Unlike California's non-profit model, Colorado's free market approach is more in tune with the American character, and has lowered the price of medicine, improved quality for patients, and created an economic phenomenon by helping to disenfranchise the black market.
MMIG is committed to safeguarding the legal and political rights of Colorado patients, while at the same time pushing for medical marijuana reform nationwide. This organization will work tirelessly and will devote all of its resources to ensuring safe and legal access to medical cannabis now and in the future.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana outdoor advertising ban moving forward at Denver City Council."