More than 60 people gathered in the Questrom School of Business Auditorium Wednesday evening for a panel entitled “Beyond Stigma: Envisioning the Cannabis Market in Massachusetts.” The discussion focused on the industry’s potential for growth now that Massachusetts has decriminalized the growing, possession and consumption of marijuana.
Jessica Bartlett of the Boston Business Journal moderated a panel including four leaders of the Massachusetts cannabis industry: Tim Keogh, Valerio Romano, Shaleen Title and Jeffery Zucker.
Rizkullah Dogum, a second-year graduate student in Questrom and the College of Arts and Sciences, said he organized the panel in hopes that it would help move the conversation about cannabis forward.
“Over the last few years, there was a stigma over the people who use marijuana, either recreational or medical,” Dogum said before the panel. “I didn’t want the conversation to be about whether cannabis or marijuana was a good thing. I wanted to move beyond that.”
Dogum wrote in an email earlier that although marijuana has been legalized in Massachusetts, it is still widely misunderstood.
“I thought that after the decision in November of Question 4 it was important for people to understand what are the impacts, and how it could affect Massachusetts overall,” Dogum wrote. “There is a lot of confusion over what you can and cannot be doing.”
He wrote that he hoped the panel would be especially helpful to those interested in entering the industry.
“I just knew that some people were interested in starting companies around this,” Dogum wrote. “I know it’s also confusing. I felt that getting people from the industry who knew how to do this could provide some insights.”
Dogum invited Keogh, president and CEO of AmeriCann, to open the discussion. Keogh spoke about the vast financial opportunities in the budding industry.
“The cannabis industry is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Keogh said. “We are in the bottom of the first inning, you really can’t think too small. Opportunities to get involved are out there, and innovations are going to happen.”
Romano, founder of the Massachusetts Marijuana Compliance, said this job growth also extended to smaller towns where marijuana dispensaries are set to be opened.
“As these dispensaries start to open, there will be more and more jobs. It’s one of our promises to host communities: we go in and convince them to allow us to open a dispensary in their Puritan, perfect town,” Romano said. “They might actually have to help sick people without Big Pharma involved. One of the ways we do that is by promising to give them jobs.”
Title, co-founder of THC Staffing Group, agreed that job opportunities in the cannabis industry are far ranging, including everything from accounting to social media.
“Don’t limit yourself,” Title said. “Think more broadly.”
The discussion then moved to the positive effects of marijuana and how it could potentially combat the heroin epidemic in Massachusetts.
Romano spoke about how marijuana can help the people of Massachusetts by allowing cannabis to be used as an “exit drug.”
“Right now, in Massachusetts, we have a scourge of heroin overdose,” Romano said. “People get prescribed [opiates], and then they do heroin. If you start with cannabis, you never go down that road. Cannabis is an exit drug. I always say if someone is really interested in combating the opioid problem we have today, they would absolutely embrace cannabis.”
Zucker, co-founder and president of Green Lion Partners, said he has seen cannabis help personal friends quit narcotics.
“It’s so clear that cannabis can lower [opioid addiction],” Zucker said. “We need to continue to build data and continue to build evidence that shows marijuana can be such a good cure for this.”
After the discussion, Title said that she wanted people to leave with a sense of optimism.
“I hope people feel confident and not defeated about a lot of the things we talked about, because this is an industry where innovation comes from young people and people who would not be your traditional entrepreneurs in traditional industries,” Title said.
Several students and alumni who attended the panel said it was a great way to learn about the largely unknown industry of cannabis.
Rick Roberts, who graduated from BU in 1981, said he agreed with the panelists about the power of marijuana as an exit drug.
“My mother-in-law was taking opiates and was basically a vegetable,” Roberts said. “We got her off those and got her medical marijuana. Next thing you know … she regained herself. I think it is a great thing and many people can benefit from it and remove the stigma.”
Matthias Grenon, a senior in CAS, said he learned a lot from the panel about the business side of the cannabis industry.
“[I learned] how difficult it is going to be to get any kind of clarity around how to start a business,” Grenon said. “Things are clearly going to be subject to change in the next couple of years, and you need to prepare for how you are going to contend for all of these things.”
Shubhesh Misra, a first-year graduate student in Questrom, said the only downside of the discussion was that it wasn’t longer.
“The panel was really informative,” Misra said. “You got the legal side, and the consultant side. I wish it was a little longer … I’m trying to leverage my MBA and try to see if I can make my own startup and see what avenue I can go down.”