Medical marijuana ganjapreneur thinks there's money in professionalism

When Senator Chris Romer first proposed a medical marijuana regulation bill, he said legislation might close half the state's dispensaries, and Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente thinks 40 percent of MMJ businesses may falter in the wake of HB 1284's signing.

MMJ Menu's Ryan Bregenzer believes it. He's gotten to the point where he can walk into a dispensary and know within minutes whether it has a chance to survive.

"You can pretty much tell right away which ones are in the business for the right reasons," he says. "Some, you go in and the staff is concerned with why you're there, and your paperwork is correct, and you have to follow a protocol. Other stores, you walk in and they don't have the right paperwork, they don't do things correctly. And you figure they're not going to be open for long."

Like many budding ganjapreneurs, Bregenzer was an MMJ patient before venturing into the industry; he suffers from migraines and lower-back pain. He hadn't planned to get into the business. But then...

"I was going to a dispensary in town, along with a couple of my friends, and we'd been working on some different computer projects," he explains. "And we noticed that all the stores were having similar problems. There was no management system designed for them, and they were spending more time with their books than with their patients -- and there's a lot of guidelines in this business. So we developed an online operating system for them, figuring it was something they could probably use."

The result was MMJ Menu, which "provides a standardized system that's simple for everybody to use, whether it's an established business that's been running for five years to a mom and pop," he says. "It does everything from inventory to patient management to helping with the books."

The software "remembers things like a patient's card number and when it's expiring, so stores can send them texts and e-mails to let them know ahead of time. And it inventories everything based on the product, whether they're sold in ounces, grams or units for things like edibles and T-shirts. That way, when inspectors come in and say, 'What products do you have?,' it's all laid out, and you can say, 'There you go.'"

Bregenzer and cohorts Justin, Alex and Tracy Weidman (Justin and Alex's mom) have found a market for their product here and beyond. "We're in four states right now, and it's going to be five soon," he notes. "We're in every kind of dispensary, from a small one in Denver to a huge one in Brea, California. And we're in Michigan and Nevada, too."

As the business has built steam, Bregenzer has visited dispensaries of every description -- and the contrast between them is often large.

"In some, there'll be employees who are doctors, who have degrees, and in others, the employees had no education and you find out the owners were big-time drug dealers who are trying to go legitimate," he says. "And you'll see obvious abuse of the laws, like kids coming in before a movie to get things they don't need medically. But the larger percentage I've seen are people who really need this medication.

"At one dispensary, a gentleman came in with a colostomy bag and bought a store's entire inventory of edibles -- and when I told him my story, he said, 'Thank you for doing it, because since your system's been up, it's really helped.' He'd been going through treatment and nothing had helped him -- but the edibles made him feel better and actually stayed in his body. He was so much better, he was able to get a part-time job."

Bregenzer is pro-regulation -- "They regulate Tylenol, so they should probably regulate this" -- and even though some MMJ types complain about all the hoops through which they're being made to jump these days, he thinks the end result will be good for patients, and bad for people who shouldn't have gotten into the business in the first place.

"If they weren't legitimate before," he says, "they're not going to last."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts