Standing Up: A Personal Journey To The Legal Cannabis Industry

Standing Up: A Personal Journey To The Legal Cannabis Industry

I never imagined I’d be writing about this topic. For 25 years, I’ve enjoyed an amazing journey as a serial entrepreneur building companies and brands, leading companies in the beer, wine and spirits, distribution, and technology industries. The alcohol industry has been good to me and to my family.

Other than a little exposure in college, I have not been around marijuana. A few years ago, I met a bunch of U.S. Marines. Travis McVey created Heroes Vodka and I helped him launch the brand. His friend Stephen told me a story that has stayed with me. Stephen Cochran served as part of the 2nd (LAR) Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was severely injured on patrol. Stephen spent nearly a year in hospitals paralyzed, unable to a walk. After undergoing an experimental procedure at Vanderbilt, he was miraculously able to walk again. Stephen said,

“In recovery, I suffered from extreme pain and Doctors prescribed me every prescription medicine you could imagine. The pain meds nearly killed me. That is when I turned to cannabis. Today I’m raising my family, writing, and performing music. I give back to veterans wherever and whenever I can ( Semper Fi Fund). Medical cannabis is the reason I can do these things today. It saved my life and the lives of many of my fellow veterans.”

This conversation opened my eyes to the many benefits of cannabis. There are more than 50 medical conditions for which cannabis is legally recognized as some form of therapy or medicine including Alzheimer’s, anorexia, arthritis, cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve come across people suffering with chronic pain and others going through cancer treatment. Cannabis allows them to live their lives without the destructive side effects of opioid based pain medicines. The more I learned about the benefits of cannabis to people suffering, the more research I did to understand the industry. Based on this, I’ve come to believe that its place in society needs to change.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – FEBRUARY 15: Al Harrington (L) and Viola Harrington arrive at exNBA Star Al Harrington Launches New CBD Business at Wolfgang’s Steakhouse on February 15, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)

Al Harrington is a 16-year NBA great and cannabis entrepreneur. I used to watch Al at Pacer’s games. Al found his way into medicinal cannabis and CBD to treat his pain from a botched knee surgery. He tells a funny story about recommending medical marijuana to his grandmother Viola. She suffered from multiple ailments, and after some initial resistance, she tried it and immediately felt better. His cannabis brand, Viola, was soon born. He also has his Harrington Wellness line of CBD. Al’s story is genuine. In an interview with Al, former NBA commissioner David Stern pronounced that the laws and rules need to change around cannabis (See Al Harrington and David Stern). Al, and my friend, musician, and NFL great Kyle Turley, have been outspoken advocates for awareness and change. It’s clear, cannabis prohibition and the aggressive pursuit of its enforcement have also particularly ravaged the African American community.

The opioid epidemic is destroying lives, families, and devastating whole communities. I personally have more than one friend who has lost a (grown) child recently, due to accidental overdose or tainted product. We must do something to stop this epidemic. Doctors overprescribing opioids is one of the primary causes. Many patients start out with legal prescriptions and become addicted. They then turn to the illegal market to meet their addiction needs. Cannabis can be used to help wean people off these destructive drugs. Ideally, it could be prescribed to avoid opioid abuse in the first place. It is a legitimate part of the solution. Given this, I decided to find out how I could make a difference.

I attended the MJ Business conference in Las Vegas and networked with Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and other friends. I wanted to figure out how I could play a positive role in this emerging industry. I did some research to understand what led to the abrupt prohibition of cannabis in the US in 1937. I learned that Indianapolis pharmaceutical powerhouse, Eli Lilly was in the cannabis business until the prohibition. Cannabis prohibition seems to have been motivated by a combination of racism and the business interests of a few that had political influence (Why Is Marijuana Illegal). I learned that many feel the ratcheting up of cannabis to a Schedule I drug (the same as Heroin) in 1970 also had racist motivations. It was certainly not based on science.

The American public now overwhelmingly supports cannabis legalization, with over 64% in favor according to Gallop. It is more popular than any current politician. State by state, citizens have made local option the law of the land. There are now 30 states plus Washington DC where medical cannabis use is legal. There are 9 states where adult recreational use is now legal. This is a prime example of the importance of state’s rights leading the way.

As the industry has come out of the shadows of illegal activity and into the light of permitted activities in many states, incredible entrepreneurial spirits have been unleashed. I feel the excitement of being at the forefront of another Repeal of Prohibition. This time though, we have the added dimension of extraordinary medical benefits. Drawing from my 25+ years in the beverage alcohol business, I see many parallels to the industry I know well. The legal framework around local option, licensing and taxes are similar to alcohol beverage laws in many respects. Constellation Brands [STZ] recent $191 million investment into Canopy Growth [WEED] further convinced me that this developing industry is going mainstream.

Legal cannabis is likely to rival the Beer, Wine and Spirits categories and exceed $50 billion annually in the coming years. Some analysts predict the US industry over $100 billion. Regardless of the number, it is and will be massive.

I met my partners Todd Kaplan and Courtney Dorne through YPO last year. I joined the team at Vertical Companies as a partner, President of Distribution and Chief Marketing Officer in January 2018. I could not be more excited in this venture, building a large scale new enterprise in the emerging cannabis space. One of my objectives will be to play my part in bringing the right coalitions together to address and correct the State vs Federal conflict that exists today.

Remembering Louis J. Conti Cornell University Class of 1941, US Marine

Remembering Louis J. Conti Cornell University Class of 1941, US Marine

I just received this from the Cornell Athletics dept (and my old wrestling coach, Andy Noel, our athletic director)… and all I could think was wow, what an amazing life.  I thought I’d share it here.    Thanks Andy for sharing. Remembering Louis J. Conti Cornell University Class of 1941, US Marine  Conti HOF Lou Conti was a two-way single wing pocket guard on Cornell’s 1939 and 1940 teams that beat Ohio State in Columbus and Ithaca. The 1939 team was undefeated and voted national champions. The 1940 team played in the famous 5th down game at Dartmouth. Lou was AP All-East in 1940 and played in the 1941 East-West Shrine game. In recognition of his athletic prowess, he was inducted into the Cornell Athletics Hall of Fame in 1981. Lou died on February 14, just two weeks after his beloved wife Dottie passed. In 1942, as a Marine Corps Lieutenant, Lou flew dive bombers in World War II’s Pacific theater. He was assigned to Marine Scout Bombing Squadrons and flew many missions in the Central and South Pacific from Palmyra, Guadal Canal, Munda, Bougainville, and Green Island in the Solomon Islands. In 1945 he was assigned as Commanding Officer of the photo recon detachment on Okinawa in support of that operation and flew photo missions over Japan in preparation for the U.S. invasion (that fortunately never happened). In 1949, he joined the football coaching staff at Cornell as an assistant and was concurrently commissioned as a Captain in the Marine Corps Reserve. He was recalled to active duty in 1952 and served as Operations and Executive Officer of the Marine Photographic squadron of the 1st Marine Air Craft Wing in Korea. He flew 102 combat missions in Korea. After a second tenure as an assistant coach with the Big Red, he began his business career in 1956 with General American Transportation Corporation’s (GATX) Tank Storage Division. There, he was instrumental in making it the largest company of its kind in the world and increased sales in a 10-year period from $10 million to $250 million annually. He went on to become the Chairman and CEO of Marine Transport Lines, a public company spun off from GATX. Lou served as a director for Emerson Electric Company. At the time, Chuck Knight was the Chairman, President, and CEO; Al Suter was the COO, and Bob Staley the Vice Chairman. All were Cornell `57, Knight and Suter football players and Staley a world champion oarsman for the Big Red. Dick Loynd `50 was also on the Emerson board, and also a former football player. The five were great friends and provided the bulk of the funding for the construction of “Friends Hall” and named so in honor of their friendship.  (I got to know Chuck when I was Co-Chair of the Owen Distinguished Lecture Series at Vanderbilt and with my Cornell connection I was his host for the visit and I had the privilege of introducing him to the school). While furthering his civilian career, Lou continued to be active in the USMC Reserve before retiring as a Major General. As a civilian, he was appointed by the Secretary of Defense to Chair the Reserve Forces Policy Board. He served in that capacity for eight years and upon his retirement was named Chairman Emeritus. For his service with the Department of Defense, he was awarded the Distinguished Public Service Medal. For his military service, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, and five Air Medals. photo_2169268_1_photo1_cropped_20140220.jpgx Lou was a devoted family man, a great athlete, served his country with distinction and was a generous benefactor of Big Red Football and a friend to all Cornell athletes. He and Dotty had six children, one of whom lost his life as a Marine in combat in Viet Nam. Lou and Dottie lived in Inverness, IL.

On behalf of the entire Cornell community, we send heartfelt condolences to Lou’s family and friends. The Cornell Football Association very appropriately named its most prestigious award the “Lou Conti Lifetime Achievement Award.” It recognizes individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the program over many years. Lou will be missed, but never forgotten. A life well lived…rest in peace dear friend.

Also as posted in the Chicago Tribune here… A memorial Mass will be held, February 24, at 9:30 at Saint Theresa Catholic Church , 455 Benton Street, Palantine, Il 60067.

%d bloggers like this: