John Lord once walked into a federal government building with $2 million in cash in his backpack to pay his taxes for the cannabis he sells.
Due to federal laws, he couldn’t get a bank account to bank his drug profits. It’s different now. His customers still have to pay cash, but he can now transfer money to the Internal Revenue Service come tax time.
Lord is the chief executive of Livwell – the largest marijuana dealer in Colorado, one of a few states that have legalised cannabis.
He sells in excess of $80 million worth of product annually. He won’t talk profit margins.
Not too bad for a one-time Te Aroha dairy farmer. He moved to the States back in 1998, first to manufacture and sell baby products. He sold that business in 2008. Cannabis is much more lucrative.
Lord has a staff of 500, owns 20 retail stores and is acquiring more this month.
500 staff is a pretty large business.
“The business itself has grown. The company pays full health care, which is a big deal over in the States. We have a retirement plan for employees, paid leave and we try to train and hire from within so it gives our employees the chance of climbing the ladder.
Sounds better than being a black market operator.
But like any good drug dealer, he knows his products inside out, not least because he uses it.
“It’s not a product that had touched my life. I was ambivalent to it. I was aware of its existence. I just wasn’t interested in trying the product then.
“I was 54 when I first tried it. I use cannabis topically every day. I’ve got a busted up knuckle from rugby days.”
He’s not the only senior citizen who uses the products. Every week, a bus load from the local retirement village hobble into his stores to stock up.
Heh, the best outing of the week.
When cannabis was legalised in Colorado, he opened up a shop and undercut the gangs. They buy off him now, after they taught him how the business worked. They then take the product to sell it in states where it’s still illegal.
“Those meetings were interesting. Never held in a boardroom – that would have intimidated them,” Lord said.
Not only have the gangs gone, Lord said crime has dropped in Colorado. And alcohol consumption is down.
“Just a couple of months ago, cannabis taxes exceeded alcohol taxes in the state by double. It’s huge,” he said.
Lord has a vested interest but I’ll be very interested to see an analysis of the change in crime rates, health problems etc after say three years of legalisation.
“New Zealand and Australia controversially legalised prostitution and the world was going to come to an end and it simply did not and so society was mature enough to handle it. The same has happened with cannabis in Colorado and several other states and we just haven’t had the social problems.
“Those who are using the product are usually those who were traditionally using the product prior to legalisation anyway. And those people are now using a safe product, at a safe retail store and a well-lit-up car park outside and a security guy standing there and not a dark alley somewhere. It’s made for a safer situation for something that was existing anyway.
It sounds like it has worked well, but again this is a vested interest.
As of a month ago, the Colorado Cannabis Industry was directly employing 25,500 people in legitimate, high-paying jobs.
“It became a little difficult for politicians who were perhaps feeling out of their depth, once they understood there were a huge number of genuine jobs coming from this and people were not sitting around in a circle singing Kumbaya and were doing a great job, with prospects, with benefits, all of that sort of thing.
“It’s been interesting watching the evolution of the politicians in their regard to the industry.”
Local law enforcement is with the industry, too.
“The local police have embraced the legalisation completely. If they go to break up a party, they usually put their backs to the giggly guys in the corner and watch the drunkards in the other corner. And I think you would find every policeman would tell you that.
Probably true, but the mix can turn some people very aggressive.
“It’s a polarising topic. Other people sell alcohol. Other people milk cows. I grow cannabis. You can turn around and rail on any industry. You can turn around to somebody brewing beer and say: your product causes all sorts of social problems. With cannabis, we are finding way less social problems compared to alcohol and the great Colorado social experiment is proving that.”
As I said I look forward to some independent reviews.