Chasing opportunity in the “Green Rush” is a risky business no matter which side of the industry you’re coming from. Beyond your passion for weed and your ingenuity in implementing an idea, the new market for marijuana products and services tests businesses on the same levels as any other new industry. Right now, there are a lot of new brands hocking a variety of products, but only the best of them will make it through the ringer.
Guys like John Nicolazzo make the weed game look easy. A decade ago, John abandoned a fruitful career in IT for the wilds of the marijuana industry, and his perseverance has put him in a position to rule a corner of the legal marijuana kingdom for years to come. John and his partners are behind some of the biggest weed websites on the Internet—MarijuanaDoctors.com, PotLocator.com, and countless others. In this month’s Weed People, John tells us about his business and the atmosphere it thrives in.
Describe your involvement with cannabis in all aspects, personal, professional and beyond.
I first started using cannabis when I was injured back in 2000. I had experimented at a much younger age, but it wasn’t until I broke my ankle that I really started using cannabis.
In late 2004, after seeing my mother, grandmother, and sister, all pass away due to cancer, I became an advocate for the industry. For many reasons, I believed that every individual should at least have the right to choose whether or not cannabis was a viable treatment option for them. During the time of my mother’s diagnosis, I had a cozy job at Foxwoods Casino. I averaged about a promotion a year and climbed the ladder rather quickly. However, eventually I got tired of the corporate world. In 2006, I left my job at Foxwoods after eight years and traveled to California with my best friend to see what this “Green Rush” was all about.
Once I arrived in California, I got my weed card. From the same doctor, I was offered a job running the call center for three locations in southern California. Eventually, I was promoted to operations director and I started to assist in the expansion of the clinics all over California. Within a year and a half, I helped build the doctor’s office from three to 11 locations. After my time with the doctor’s office I then bought 50% of a website known as PotLocator.com—which was one of the very first dispensary locator. Shortly after rebuilding and re-launching the site, I got a call from an individual that owned the domain MarijuanaDoctors.com, who had a vision of creating an entire medical doctors network specifically for the medical cannabis industry.
Two years and $2.5 million later, we have developed an entire network of websites for consumers and businesses to help get started in the industry either as medical patients, adult recreational users, or business entrepreneurs. To date, we have over 1,000 plus cannabis domains, 20 major brands we’ve brought to market, six trademarks, three patents, and slew of other tech-related projects we are working on for the cannabis space.
How is state-level legalization affecting your cannabis-related activities?
State-level legalization has made it a lot easier for my business to flourish. Individuals are no longer hiding in the closet about their choice of medicine and acceptance is spreading wider.
What are some of the victories of state-level legalization in your area?
Here in New York, our latest victory is the passing of the medical marijuana bill. Though it is restrictive and has been delayed for almost another year, I feel the program will expand as the program rolls out. Is it exactly what New Yorkers want? Of course not, but it is a step in the right direction to offer the choice to those who suffer from valid medical conditions.
What are some of the failures of state-level legalization in your area?
I think that’s obvious: the state is too restrictive when it comes to the qualifying conditions list. Like most states that implement state laws for medical marijuana, the program had limited qualifying conditions, and a board of medical professionals is being constructed to add other conditions as seen fit at a later date. I believe that although the conditions should be outlined for guidance to doctors, it should really be up to the patients’ primary care physician to determine if a patient qualifies.
The state has also failed to develop a viable caregiver program. Typically a caregiver law is set in place so that the folks who need access to medicine can do so by assigning a caregiver to grow for them. New York has removed this right 100% from the MMJ law so that not even a caregiver, let alone a patient, can grow cannabis legally in the state of New York.
What is the biggest challenge facing legalization on a state level?
The biggest challenge facing legalization on a state level is testing cannabis. You can’t test something that is federally illegal without the proper license. So in order to move forward with medical legalization we need to re-classify cannabis to allow more studies and tests to be conducted on a national level. As far as cannabis being legal for recreational use, the government won’t allow it because it is too hard to control. So what is the biggest obstacle for recreational use? That’s easy… the Government! However, I do feel that the consideration for cannabis to be legal would be drastically improved once the technology is created to monitor it and show transparency.
Do you believe the federal government is making progress towards decriminalization or legalization?
I do believe the federal government is making progress towards legalizing cannabis. If you follow the media, you’ll see that the Obama administration has issued several licenses to universities and major corporations to test cannabis for medicinal properties. I don’t believe you will see “Cannabis” re-classified, what we will see is the components like CBD, THCv, CBG and CBC recognized as having medicinal properties and when this happens, the scheduling will change. At that time, although cannabis won’t be “legal” it will nationally be accepted on a medical level and you will start to see pharmaceutical products like Sativex hit the market in the United States.
If I could make one worthy prediction, it’s that companies like GW Pharma with a product like Sativex will have their stocks go through the roof when this happens. We’re talking millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of doctors now being able to recommend a product on the medical market just like any other prescription drug.
How long, do you predict, before weed is completely legal in America?
I don’t think cannabis will ever be 100% legal. I believe the medical market is still about 10-20 years in the making. Meaning, we will re-classify cannabis in the next three years or so, and when that happens the big pharma companies of the world will make sure cannabis has no permanent widespread access to the general public through several propaganda campaigns. Between testing, studies, insurance and other avenues, cannabis has a much greater potential revenue-wise in the medical industry as opposed to the recreational market. That being said, we will see a lot of money being dumped into the industry to prevent full recreational use from happening in America.
How long, do you predict, before weed is completely legal in the world?
As far as when weed will be legal in the world, I say NEVER. When was the last damn time we saw an entire world agree on one thing?
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