With two legal recreational markets in the United States and several more on the way, much of the debate has focused on what sort of industry model works best. As anyone involved in the industry knows, the politics of legalization are complicated and cannabis policy activists are passionate, as many peoples’ livelihoods are at stake. Though it has seen a few bumps, Colorado’s experimental cannabis model is generally considered the most successful to date.
In the next segment of our interview with Matt Brown from My 420 Tours, he discusses how he became involved in the debate that shaped the future of Colorado’s industry, well before the passage of Amendment 64. Drawing on his high school debate experience and general knowledge of official processes, he was able to help medical marijuana professionals organize and contribute to the discussion that wound up leading to a blueprint for the state’s recreational industry. Listen to the interview on our website, or read the transcript below!
Matt Brown Interview: Part 4
First time here? Go to Part 1 by clicking here. Part 5 is coming soon: stay tuned!
Matt Brown: So, I had this unique talent and I knew: I’m really good at this. My real event in high school that I focused most of my time on was student senate, which, or student congress–I focused at nationals on the senate. Where, it was just like ours, you’d get up and give three minute speeches for or against bills or authoring a bill, which is like a special kind of foray.
Ganjapreneur: And these were actual bills that will be debated? Or they’re mock bills or…?
Matt Brown: Mock bills. Shortened versions of…
Ganjapreneur: Of real topics.
Matt Brown: Written in the same, you know, I learned Robert’s rules of order from a very early age and I was a parliamentarian from, like, sophomore year on.
Ganjapreneur: So, procedure was, which is very intimidating I think to a lot of activists, was not–never a problem for you?
Matt Brown: And it was a very comfortable part for me. It was like a coming back to what I know. When you…
Ganjapreneur: Oh, it’s almost like you’re on your own turf.
Matt Brown: I was back in high school debate again and I’d…
Matt Brown: It’d been years since I’d gotten to debate like this…
Ganjapreneur: Yeah yeah yeah.
Matt Brown: …and like, it was on such an elevated level of… I don’t just get a judge to give me the most points and say I’m the number one speaker in the round and I win, but I get to affect social policy here, and we had a very clear consciousness that this was the marijuana industry’s shot at being the example the world would follow. And I laid that argument carefully and early before it was certain that that was going to happen to start building that inevitability in the minds of everybody. Whether it was the legislature, the public that doesn’t smoke pot and don’t care, or the, the activist, was… one way or another we were at an inevitable point where you will have for-profit businesses because your hands are tied by the constitution. You can embrace this and years from now… this was an exact quote, I actually am in the Westword quoted on this one, “Years from now you will hear states and countries around the world saying ‘We’re going to follow the Colorado model.’” And, you know, somebody like Tom Massey who is a Western slope real estate agent in ranch country. Republican– wasn’t a Nancy Reagan republican. He wasn’t coming at, and there was very few of that, “What about the children, what about the children?” argument at that, that time. And 2009 was a shitty year. Like, the legislature was coming into the beginning of 2010 after two of the worst years since the great depression.
Ganjapreneur: And that’s, you know, that’s one thing that I think often gets glossed over and is highly relevant for this argument is, you did have this nascent industry that was, especially before additional fees and…
Matt Brown: Mmhmm
Ganjapreneur: …and taxes.
Matt Brown: 2009? This was the American dream success story in a way that has not been played out since our grandparents’ age.
Matt Brown: You know, this is what you hear about post-World War II look like. Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and saying, “We’re gonna fucking do this.”
Ganjapreneur: It was the point where every time you went into Home Depot you saw five growers you knew. Every time you went out to eat it was industry people eating because no one else had that. No one was doing home improvement and no one else needed to buy that much shit.
Matt Brown: Yup.
Ganjapreneur: And, no one else was making money.
Matt Brown: And, and we merged it with a period of such incredible growth where all the money immediately got plowed back into the operation. You didn’t have an opportunity for the sort of, visible wealth…
Matt Brown: …to spill. You know, we didn’t see guys driving around in Ferraris the way you do in California.
Ganjapreneur: Right, right, right.
Matt Brown: And there was probably some of that cash flow being generated but it, everybody was just trying to keep up because we saw this gold mine coming of…
Matt Brown: I’m gonna stay in the business long enough and this is gonna be worth it.
Ganjapreneur: But you had people sustaining, entrepreneurs sustaining a middle class lifestyle…
Matt Brown: Yes.
Ganjapreneur: …in one year.
Matt Brown: And we had a four or five to one, at least, ratio of people who were not waking up in the morning worried that they were, they could get their door kicked in for a controlled substances violation.
Matt Brown: We had real estate agents and landlords and electricians and….
Matt Brown: HVAC utilities and general contractors and anybody. Trimmers. Like…
Ganjapreneur: Grow stores.
Matt Brown: If you’re gonna work in a shitty job somewhere making minimum wage or basically minimum wage…
Ganjapreneur: Would you rather be sewing or trimming pot?
Matt Brown: Exactly. Would you rather be working at 7-11 or trimming pot and listening to music and, you know…
Ganjapreneur: And that was pre-badge, anyone could do it.
Matt Brown: You got paid a lot more then, too.
Ganjapreneur: And for the people who started early, those people quickly became growers or hash makers or whatever.
Matt Brown: We apprenticed our, our own industry.
Matt Brown: And there was one of my clients early on who, I love the way you said this, was, what we were doing in Colorado, he was from Texas, was unlocking the tribal knowledge that for decades had been locked away under the surfaces of illegality and bringing it above board so quickly that we took… it required people who had real-world non-pot business experience to join the people who had real grow experience and weren’t bullshit artists. To combine with somebody who knew how to run a retail operation, cause that’s what this is. This is a retail store.
Matt Brown: No matter how hot your fire. No matter what your what. And, and that’s what we had all of that come together.
Ganjapreneur: And so fast. Perfect timing.
Matt Brown: And it was, in 2009, the, the other thing I’d like to point to was, during the same time in 2009-2010, uh, Chris Gregor, Gregoire or however you pronounce her name of Washington, the governor.
Matt Brown: Washington had a very similar early-on upswell because they already had a medical marijuana law similar to ours – Patients and caregivers.
Matt Brown: But what they saw was state government push back and authorized tacitly or, you know, off the books or whatever, a lot of the rates, the federal prosecutors became very emboldened and shut down a lot of dispensaries. And so until the November 2012 ballot, you saw a California system existing there where places like Seattle would turn the other cheek and just say, “We’re not going to shut you down. We don’t wanna figure this out yet.”
Matt Brown: And you still had people in Tacoma getting their doors kicked in and hauled away to long jail sentences. And when you compare the numbers, you know, Washington State is about a five percent, plus or minus, more liberal state across the board than Colorado.
Ganjapreneur: In their general politics?
Matt Brown: Just, yeah. In any, you know, like the generic question… kinda business.
Ganjapreneur: And that’s obvious… Highly educated state, techy state, West Coast.
Matt Brown: And, and the population is heavily weighted on the West Coast, which is also significantly more liberal and tech-savvy and wealthy and affluent than the rest. But you have a huge part of the state that plays in politics that’s farm country and is… Idaho, basically.
Ganjapreneur: Right. Yeah.
Matt Brown: They kicked in doors. Their voters voted to tell their government, “Seriously guys. We’re sick of it.” And they legalized pot almost in retaliation to this continued problem. Whereas here, our voters should not have voted as overwhelmingly as they did by any sort of, again, generic analysis of our voter base.
Ganjapreneur: Right. Well I usually just look at the Obama vote. We exceeded the Obama vote in the same election.
Matt Brown: The big key margin was in… assuming every pot smoker voted for Amendment 64, which we know isn’t the case, even factoring out that 18 percent or so of the adult population. There was a majority support for amendment 64 among the non-pot-smokers.
Matt Brown: And that was a function of the fact that in 2010 the legislature was handed, almost on a platter, an industry that had already self-regulated, had coalesced, had come together and at least begged for the first round of regulations.
Matt Brown: There’s all sorts of very valid debate to be had on the details of that. And individual decisions that kind of flowed from it, but… The most important thing was, we came into the middle of 2010 with clarity, to a degree, and in the next year and a half we had a billion dollars of hard currency invested in Color-, in the Denver 50-mile radius range. And a 60% drop in the retail price to the consumer. Both of which in an economics point of view are grand slams to the government’s interests.
Matt Brown: Um, we proved in the same time period… thankfully the media got on board and didn’t exaggerate things, didn’t do a whole lot of investigative digging on crime rates, but there was not the perception that, and the perception was almost that there was no crime in dispensaraies. The reality was statistically we were no more significantly so than most other businesses of a high value inventory. There’s…
Ganjapreneur: Exactly. Compared to like a bank or a pharmacy, yeah.
Matt Brown: …a robbery a day. There’s a lot of grows getting robbed and a lot of it goes unreported to, you know, police and official statistics. Which is also a sign of, you know, Denver P. D. especially working with City Council, working with all the stakeholders to say, “We don’t want to sensationalize anything.” There was a willingness for a long time to turn the other way and not file reports because they knew we all needed to get to a point where the industry was viewed as safe, and…
Ganjapreneur: So they played ball to whatever degree.
Matt Brown: They did. You know, and…
Ganjapreneur: Credit to them for that. I mean that’s, it’s visionary whether they can take the public stance or not if they, if, in, in a policy sense, like, you know I never knew that. I’ll give them more credit now.
Matt Brown: And I would say the other big factor that played into this was, and you’ll see this in all sorts of other issues. The other interesting facet about how Colorado politics work. A. We’re a western state which has home rule cities.
Ganjapreneur: Right, so local rule can supercede state rule? Is that how that works?
Matt Brown: Right. The idea in all the Eastern states…
Ganjapreneur: And that’s super Western, frontiersy, like…
Matt Brown: It’s a function of the fact that Denver existed before Colorado existed.
Matt Brown: And so when Colorado came into being, the cities that were here were all given the option, basically, to retain this home rule status which was common throughout most of the Western territories that were purchased. And it, it gives them limited trump card on the state over things that would traditionally be city’s. So, you know, and the biggest thing that makes all lawyers scratch their head and throw up their hands on marijuana law is the, the day one, week one law school: Federal law trumps state law trumps local law and each one has a division of powers and this is the way it works.
Matt Brown: And clearly now we have this inversion of state and federal law that is, you know, there’s clearly detente from the federal government. There’s an allowance of this to happen, um, you know, condoning directly, and, but, from a, a truly legal point of view that situation cannot last forever. That is a, a legal bubble that needs to be fixed. The supremacy clause is proven. The Angel Raich case made very clear, a very clear test case for California, that there is no state-based ability to supercede the Controlled Substances Act under, uh, the tenth amendment for medical, no matter how desperate the medical need. And it was, you know, a dying cancer patient. Like, a very specific test case. I use that quite a bit, actually, to talk to our politicians. You know like, Federal law, this is figured out. Like, there is zero legal authority for the state to do so, however… So home-rule gives another little check against state power, um, just to those cities. So there’s regular cities here that don’t have home rule.
Ganjapreneur: So not all Colorado cities are home rule.
Matt Brown: Correct.
Ganjapreneur: I see.
Matt Brown: Uh, Wheat Ridge is a regular, statutory city.
Ganjapreneur: And it’s in new, one of the newer cities. You can tell by where it is.
Matt Brown: Yeah. Um, you know, I think Aurora is home-rule, Colorado Springs is home-rule, Denver, you know. And not all the cities that were here chose to be but I think any of them that were smart pretty much did. But what it’s done is create this, this relationship between the state legislature and particularly the Denver city council, which is also viewed as that perfect middle between Boulder and Colorado Springs. That Denver could be the proxy, and then nobody has to talk about either two ends, and… it’s this beautiful tap dance. It’s very well choreographed across all other issues in the state and marijuana took part in it. Denver city council meets year-round.
Ganjapreneur: And I guess I should editorialize as a bit for my own notes that, you know, Boulder being liberal and Colorado Springs being the military stronghold of…
Matt Brown: Right.
Ganjapreneur: …the nation.
Matt Brown: Right. And the evangelical Jerusalem.
Ganjapreneur: Yeah, evangelical Jerusalem, true.
Matt Brown: For a number of people. Uh…
Ganjapreneur: And Fort Collins being a weird mix of the two.
Matt Brown: Yes. It’s, it’s half-Greeley half-Boulder.
Matt Brown: Uh, which is another strange. And we have… we have a really cool state. We’re also one-third democrat, one-third republican, one-third independent. Um…
Ganjapreneur: One-third independent’s a crazy… you know, like, that doesn’t exist.
Matt Brown: And that mix does not, that, that shade of purple is very unique across the United States.
Ganjapreneur: Light purple, it’s pur- it’s a pink, we’re a pink state.
Matt Brown: No, we’re a dark purple.
Ganjapreneur: Dark purple?
Matt Brown: Perfectly between red and blue. Exactly. Uh, so Denver city council could act. The state will also… and like Romer I knew was going back and forth with, uh, uh, Charlie Brown.
Matt Brown: Who was our best friend, in retrospect. He says boneheaded things. He gets quoted, but the fact that Charlie Brown was the one who led that through Denver city council had as much to do with everything where we came.”