Our most recent interview features Robert Calkin, founder of Cannabis Career Institute, an innovator among marijuana schools. Robert is also president of the nation’s first and arguably most successful branded MMJ delivery service, Green Dot Delivery.
“One of my life lessons has been underestimating people’s ability to make something happen through sheer will.”
In this interview, Robert explains his gradual transition from cannabis entrepreneur to eventually serving as a business consultant across many avenues of the industry. He tells us about the founding of CCI and discusses the many qualities that set his school apart from the competition, one of which emphasizes the development and maintaining of good business relationships with CCI students and the companies they go on to found.
Read the full interview below:
Ganjapreneur: What about the cannabis industry initially drew you to it?
Robert Calkin: I have been using cannabis since I was 11, so I think the immediate attraction was seeing how much influence and gravitas marijuana had. I saw that people had such a strong connection to it that it literally created a secret society where the members instantly recognized each other and only did business within that secret realm. This was a powerful attraction in that it was also insanely lucrative. I have had a delivery service all my life and started America’s first branded delivery service, Green Dot Delivery in California in 1988. Being financially independent all my life via cannabis was what inspired me to become a consultant and help others to do the same thing. I was also the first marijuana delivery consultant.
When was the idea for Cannabis Career Institute born?
I created the idea for CCI in 2008 at the height of the great recession, while working at Oaksterdam University. I had just created the curriculum for their Delivery 102 class, which was based on my book (Starting Your Own Medical Marijuana Delivery Service—The Mobile Caregiver’s Handbook) which I actually wrote while in class at Oaksterdam after I discovered they had no delivery class! I realized that people were hungry for more information on corporate structure, how to fill out the forms necessary to create a cannabis business and to just generally get support outside of class while working on their individual projects and business concepts. I wanted to provide a platform for them to be able to gauge the progress of their success, come back to get updates on the law and have an immediate almost unlimited pool of resources via our network.
How easy was it to find an interested student body for CCI during those early years?
When we first began no one wanted to advertise themselves as being “in the cannabis industry” so we had to advertise the classes without promoting the instructors. I always felt that Oaksterdam and CCI legitimized the cannabis industry by paying professionals to come in and teach standards to people who want to follow the law. Constitutionally we are also allowed to gather and share information, especially information geared toward following the law not getting around it. So as time progressed, people felt more comfortable coming out of the closet and admitting what they were doing for a living. We see this transformation in every state we go to where, initially people are frightened to even answer the phone and discuss it rationally, then months later they are “cannabis experts” who have been specializing in this “for years”. Then, everyone is fighting to be the first “marijuana attorney” or “marijuana accountant” in town. Then they are trying to “out-green” everyone!
What sort of educational services, information, and opportunities does Cannabis Career Institute offer its students?
We see ourselves as a mentoring program for people considering the cannabis industry as a career, or those who already have a concept or business plan that needs developing. We have classes across the country and once you have paid for one class you get to return to any of our classes for free. Not only that but we are available to our students outside of class for consulting and networking. We actually want to do business with our students and actively find them jobs. We provide an immediate group of talented individuals to anyone who enrolls who will help them to create an action team of their own. These are the people who will help you to do the things that you can’t or shouldn’t do like your accountant and your attorney.
CCI was founded in 2009 — were you expecting then that legalization efforts would ramp up in the ways we’ve seen since?
Yes I have been anticipating pretty much everything in this sector rolling out the way it has. That’s why I got trademarks on quite a few cannabis related businesses in 2010. CCI and Cannajobs are both federal trademarks, as are Cannabis State University and CannaMeeting. I have also trademarked Green Dot Delivery so I can license that model too.
Do you think we will someday see full legalization in the United States, including medical and recreational cannabis?
I believe we will see this happen at a lightning speed and an exponential rate. As we gain momentum, and this becomes more of a lifestyle issue and an attack on a subculture which of course has rights and needs that must be respected. Just as the AIDS movement and gay marriage got representation, with public education, all of a sudden they had a voice and a serious issue that had to be considered. The same thing is happening in this case. The people are creating an agenda that can’t be ignored: the need for alternative heath treatment and safe access, especially for children and the terminally ill.
How have states with recreational legalization influenced your plan for the future?
I am actually focusing more on states with no medical marijuana program just as much if not more than ones who have one already because we specialize in helping people who are just starting out in this industry and in developing brands. Many times this means local markets with specific marketing and branding needs. This is something we of course concentrate on and specialize in at CCI.
What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced while building your institution?
Actually I have not had many obstacles. As we started to grow we have experienced the usual pains of a corporation expanding, maybe not anticipating problems that pop up inevitably. Problems with credit card companies and bank accounts have been issues for us. Also, employees and partners who steal our business plans and business models has also been a problem but mostly turns out to be just an amusing anecdote in the end.
What do you think is the greatest contributing factor to your institution’s success?
The fact that we are open and available to our students 24-7 even outside of class for mentoring or consulting them on whatever it is they are working on has been a huge factor in our success. This leads to a lot of successful job placement, deal funding, networking opportunities that are priceless. I can’t tell you how many times people have said to me, “I can’t believe you answer your phone!” It’s because we enjoy what we do! We hear from people everyday who tell us their lives have completely changed since attending one of our seminars or utilizing our instructors. Our slogan has served us well which is “Your success is our success”. With a dash of self-reliance, you too can do anything you want in the cannabis industry!
What is one piece of advice you have for hopeful ganjapreneurs trying to get in on the industry?
Don’t let anyone discourage you from pursuing your business model. One of my life lessons has been underestimating people’s ability to make something happen through sheer will. Don’t discount the power of positive thought when it comes to entrepreneurialism as it helps you to create a tunnel vision that will serve you well. As long as it is the right business model—you will succeed.
Thank you Robert for your insights on this exciting industry, and for creating such a great opportunity for ganjapreneurs to learn the ways of the cannabusiness world! We’re looking forward to watching CCI grow as the legalization trend continues.