On January 9 and 10, the weekend before the Denver City Council is slated to vote on a new medical marijuana proposal, Los Angeles-based Greenway University, described by CEO and founder Gus Escamilla as a "medical marijuana training and education institute," is slated to stage a two-day seminar at the Westin Tabor Center downtown -- click here for more details -- designed to help nascent ganjapreneurs move into the economic mainstream.
"We want to bring a new face to this industry -- more of a corporate background, more of a business philosophy as opposed to a hippie movement," Escamilla asserts. "Not to say that's good or bad -- but we're different. We're an entirely new breed."
Along these lines, Escamilla emphasizes that "our curriculum is specifically designed to assist people to follow the letter of the law. What we really need to do is bring validity, standardization and systemization all across the board. Compliance is our primary component. We need to be integral parts of the community by paying our taxes and bringing validation that's so desperately needed in this industry even as we shake the aspect of illegitimacy."
How to do that? Escamilla sees "a huge need for lab testing. We believe lab testing our medicine not only to understand the potency of individual strains but also the quality of individual strains assures our patients of getting the best possible types of medicine available."
According to Escamilla, Greenway has "opened more than 200 dispensaries in the California marketplace, so we know a thing or two about the industry." At the same time, though, he acknowledges that the medical marijuana industry in Los Angeles is chaotic and confusing in ways Colorado would do well to avoid.
"What happened in L.A. is the industry got ahead of itself," he maintains. "Here in Colorado, we have a tremendous opportunity to start from ground zero and do things right, taking what we identified as not what we want in California and making it better in Colorado -- like lab testing, which standardizes everything from cultivation all the way to the dispensary. It allows us to track and tax our medicine and that's huge. We can't do that in California, but in Colorado, we need that benchmark. We need legislation, we need ordinances, and we want to be able to comply with any and all ordinances that come our way -- teach people to do things right and work hand in hand with local and state legislators."
The two-day event at the Westin begins with what Escamilla calls "a Business 101 course. We cover how to open a dispensary or start a delivery service -- drill down to a step-by-step guide, with real world, market-tested knowledge from day-to-day operations. And we also cover understanding the law as it relates to Amendment 20 here in Colorado."
That's easier said than done, given the patchwork of regulations being created by communities throughout the metro area. In this case, however, Escamilla feels Greenway's experience with the Los Angeles free-for-all pays dividends.
"The rules in California shift on an hourly basis," he says. "We've got 58 different counties, and every county's different. We deal with these legislative shifts all the time, so we want to make sure all our students have the right information as it relates to what's current. We're on top of Senator Romer's bill, for example; we've broken it down. We're two or three steps ahead, but we're able to adjust and offer continuing education to our students as well."
During the second day of sessions, the focus moves toward agriculture.
"We'll actually have a master grower come in," he notes, adding, "we already grow some of the finest quality medicine in the country as it relates to patients, using both hydroponics and soil methods. We really give our students a great, thorough baseline for understanding what it's going to take to create good quality medicine for their patients."
In the meantime, Greenway is developing its own varieties of medical marijuana.
"We have a botanist and geneticist on staff -- August Dunning -- and we currently have five strains in development for particular medicinal effects. We want to have a higher quality strain of medicine we developed that would fall under the lab-testing method, so we could validate the consistency and strength of our medicine. We want to be able to tell legislators and local officials, 'Here's what we have and here's how we've proven it, and here are the testing methods to validate it.'
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"Imagine having your medicine with a label that shows the cannabinoid level, that shows the quality of the strain, that's lab-tested so you know there's no pesticides, no funny business, with everything clearly identified. That's something you can do with our bar-coding system, a truly integrated point-of-sale system where you're actually able to legally collect payments using Visa, Mastercard and American Express without being misleading on the application. It offers the ability to track medicine from cultivation to dispensary, tying everything together so it can be taxed. And we want to pay our taxes. That's what this economy needs. We need to give back to our community. That's the big picture -- where we see all of this going."
The price for these sessions isn't cheap: $295 for the weekend. No wonder the average Greenway University student is older than the typical college enrollee. "Our biggest demo is not the 21-to-35 year olds but people 36-to-65 years old," he points out. "They're industry professionals who run the gamut from architects and grad students to attorneys and accountants."
Escamilla believes there are plenty of people like these in Colorado, which explains why Greenway plans to open a branch in Denver. "We have several locations picked out, and our intention is to have a campus here with growing facilities on-site, with classrooms as well as labs. We've hired a local design team to put all that together on our behalf.
"We want to bring a new level of integrity and standardization and legitimacy to this industry," he continues, "and do everything we can to become an integral part of the Colorado marketplace."