Aspen hosted the first Cannabis Grand Cru (CGC), which created an intimate and private environment for leaders in the cannabis world to convene, network and share ideas about the future of the cannabis universe. The slate of meetings and speakers covered almost all aspects of the cannabis industry, both medical and recreational.

Dispensary owners, growers, lawyers, marketers, scientists, law enforcement professionals, edible purveyors, political activists and enthusiasts all had a chance to address the conference. Jordan Lewis founder and owner of Aspen’s Silver Peak Apothecary and Morgan Carr of Wellspring Collective in Denver were on hand to provide insight into the day-to-day operations and the trials and tribulations of a thriving cannabis business. Both men were quite professional and well-spoken and seem to be successful business owners. They each stressed the importance of working with state regulatory agencies and abiding by all the rules and regulations set forth by the government. Interesting thoughts were shared by Mason Tvert, a well-known political force who helped draft and push through Amendment 64, which made recreational cannabis possible in Colorado. Pitkin County Sherrif Joe DiSalvo was on hand to share his methodology about law enforcement relating to marijuana—the “velvet sword” relating to pot. He stressed that public safety was his “main concern” and that he was not promoting the use of cannabis.

Colorado Cannabis Business Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs in the new Colorado business, including Jordan Lewis (left) and Morgan Carr (third from left). Can you tell which business? Photo credit: Aspen Spin.

Cannabis is a centuries-old product, but it’s in its infancy as a legal, mainstream business. It’s exciting to witness the growth from the ground up here in Colorado. I get the impression that some of the original pioneers of cannabis are in over their heads when it comes to real business issues—like accounting, human resources and financing. Professionalism and outside experience will only help the industry to achieve smart growth.

While I am a complete outsider to the cannabis business, I attended the event and can share several other observations:

The 411 on the Colorado Cannabis Business

  1. It was pointed out that there are over 700 dispensaries in Denver—allegedly, more than the number of McDonald’s and Starbucks shops combined. At some point in the near future, only the strong will survive, and those that offer the best products at the best prices with the best service will succeed.
  2. Some of the speakers made continued references to the “lifestyle” and the “culture.” It’s important to embrace your core customers and those passionate about your products, but the true growth of the cannabis business will occur when it becomes a more mainstream product. Coca Cola is not catering only to hardcore soda drinkers and Hershey’s is not looking to connect with just those living the chocolate lifestyle.
  3. States love the tax revenues generated by cannabis. For the month of May 2015, the Colorado government recorded $10.6 million in total marijuana taxes, licenses and fees—up 101.3 percent from May 2014. States are taking the business very seriously. Regulatory and compliance aspects of the biz and the taxation are being watched with eagle eyes.
  4. Financing and investment capital are vital for continued growth in the cannabis business. When big money is involved, people get very, very serious. As the industry attempts to mature, I think we will see more professional people, with real-life credentials, getting involved with medical and recreational cannabis. I don’t think bankers and venture capitalists can relate to a poncho-wearing, dreadlocked bro-brah pretending to be a CEO.
  5. Education is perhaps the most important factor moving forward for the cannabis business. All the most successful operators seem to be very strong on the education front. Law enforcement echoed the thought that the more information on products the better. Testing and labeling is crucial.
  6. Edibles have created their own set of problems. Marketing and packaging issues have arisen because of the risk to children and unsuspecting adults. Dosing is crucial and making it very clear that each person reacts differently to edibles.
  7. Some of the counter-culture and lifestyle advocates still revert back to their black market roots. They want to be taken seriously, but they make it difficult for that to occur Many early movers in the green rush claim to be interested in helping patients, providing compassionate care and embracing a natural solution for pain relief—yet they can’t wait to get a lunch break so they can partake.
  8. The cannabis business is maturing quickly but not as fast as the industry leaders want it to. There is still a stigma associated with the marijuana business. In many circles, it’s not yet considered a “legitimate” business. Traditional banking and financing operations, for instance, have yet to embrace the cannabis operators.
  9. Those in the industry consider monikers such as pot, weed, reefer, ganja, cheeba, chronic, herb, skunk and so on to be passé and almost derogatory. Even marijuana is considered to be a “racist” term by some cannabis aficionados, due to the theory that use of the Spanish name was picked up because Latinos were considered prime customers early in the 20th century. So cannabis is the politically correct phraseology for those in the business.

Cannabis is one of the world’s oldest products, but the legalization of the business is just starting. We here in Colorado are at ground zero. We have a chance to help establish the industry and prove that cannabis deserves to be taken seriously. The growth of the cannabis business is inevitable as more and more states approve medical and recreational marijuana. It should be an interesting trip.

Editor’s note: The original version of this article appeared on Aspen Spin on Nov. 16, 2014.