John Davis: Working Together to Build an Industry, Not Just a Business

John Davis: Northwest Patient Resource Center

It was 1993 when he was able to get his hands on the document that opened his eyes to the truth of the senseless prohibition on cannabis. This is the day things changed for him; this is when his passion in life was determined; this is the day he came to awaken his activism and join the cannabis policy reform. And 17 years later, he’s still hard at work doing just that and plenty more. John Davis, founder of Northwest Patient Resource Center, is a maverick in his own regard, yet he does so intelligently and consciously and is bringing this industry out into the light. Every word of his is note-worthy, so we suggest you grab a pen.

What was the deciding factor for you to join this particular industry?

I have been a cannabis policy reform activist for many years. In my professional life, I achieved a high enough level in the “straight world” that my activism started to be viewed as a corporate liability. I realized I was going to have to make a choice between my activism and my career. Northwest Patient Resource Center is my solution to marry the two.

I realized I was going to have to make a choice between my activism and my career.

What were you doing before the green rush?

I was a professional project manager. I managed construction projects that were upwards of half a billion dollars and I have built hundreds of projects all over the United States. I was also actively engaged in cannabis policy reform efforts.

What are you doing to impact the industry?

On a local level, I am actively engaged with the City of Seattle in its cannabis licensing/zoning efforts. On a state level, I have assisted the various bureaucracies to figure out how to implement this notion of legalization and advocating for legislative fixes for the existing cannabis laws. On a national level, I have been working with Congress to provide us with banking and tax relief as well as lobbying for a de-scheduling of cannabis. On an international level, I am preparing for the 2016 Single Convention Treaty Summit.

Describe your work ethic to me in one word.

Exhausting.

Tell me about a time in your career that didn’t go as planned and what you did about that? How did you handle it?

In the early days of medical cannabis retail, people wanted to follow lawyers’ advice on how to do so without risk. Really, all a lawyer should tell you is that, even today, there is no way to deal in cannabis or the ancillary businesses that entirely complies with the law.

Due to this advice there were a lot of people in the industry, including people that I had partnered with, that did not want to create any evidence that could be used against them in a criminal court trial. This evidence included things like keeping books, inventory, and paying taxes. With people struggling to keep businesses running in an ad hoc fashion, it was very tough to get businesses to run like businesses. There were significant losses due to theft in this system which actually put us at a much greater risk because theft is diversion of our product and cash. Also, things like paying taxes are what the authorities actually care about and that actually put you and your business at risk. If you are a commercial enterprise then you are a commercial enterprise; you are not exempted from any laws of standard business because you work with cannabis. This was a policy foolish way to conduct business.

Eventually, I had to leave my first organization to find a new organization that flew in the face of the lawyer’s advice. This new business was based on meticulous record keeping and transparency. I took everything that I had learned in my policy work and in business along with all of my personal savings and founded Northwest Patient Resource Center.

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What book have you read that you’ve been inspired by? Any particular read we should put on our list?

The Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse: Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding or The Shafer Commission Report was a pivotal document for me to finally obtain and read. These were the findings of Richard Nixon’s blue ribbon panel on marijuana. It shows the fact that we knew that the propaganda and hysteria was unfounded when we started the drug war. I first read of this in 1993 and it really galvanized my opposition to this senseless prohibition.

Of course, for many years, the 101 must-read for the movement has been The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer. I would recommend that if you have not read it that you do so, now.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

A wise lawyer once told me “Only break one law at a time.” Words to live by.

How would you advise someone who wants to join the industry?

My advice to those looking to break into the cannabis industry differs based on what role they are looking to play. As an investor/entrepreneur I would certainly tell them that it is difficult, complex and tough, to monetize this industry. I certainly would recommend that they study not only the industry, but the history of the cannabis prohibition, the reform movement, the 280e tax rulings and to sit down with a veteran of the industry and an accountant with cannabis experience. They really need to come in with an “eyes wide open” attitude if they are going to survive in the industry.

If someone is looking to be employed by the industry I would advise that they:

  1. Only work with reputable organizations that care about compliance,
  2. Educate themselves on cannabis and cannabis policy,
  3. Make sure that if they are paying for classes that are taught by an instructor has actual real-world experience,
  4. Get in now because 1 hour spent in the field now will be worth 5 hours next year.

What is a skill or trait that you think is necessary to make an impact in this industry?

The keys to making an impact in the industry are knowledge, a commitment to compliance, and the ability to work positively with others to help lay a foundation for the industry. Without a healthy industry, no business can expect to go far.

What is the most important thing for us to know now about the legal marijuana industry?

We have been given clear signals that the experiment of legalization will be allowed to proceed when the sensibilities of the August 29 Cole memo are minded. It is up to those of us in the industry to find a positive way to do this and to be in constant communication with stakeholders about what it is that we are doing. The industry’s greatest threat right now is for the players in the industry to be careless and reckless. If we are not thoughtful about how we promulgate this industry, it could be ended before it really begins. We cannot risk public perception turning against us.

The industry’s greatest threat right now is for the players in the industry to be careless and reckless.

If we are sitting across from each other a year from now, how will our conversation about the ‘green rush’ be going?

I think the outlook of the industry is strong. I think that we will still be discussing 280e and changes that are needed in various State laws. But I predict that there will be a significant movement in relaxing the prohibition of cannabis as a national policy. We will probably be talking about some gains that we have made through State legislative sessions and through citizens initiatives in bringing more states on-line with either medical or adult-use programs. We will definitely be talking about how some of the existing medical and adult-use programs have gone in terms of creating rules and licensing programs.

If we have done our job to keep public perception positive about how the industry has been progressing, we will be talking about the successes in a regulated model in reducing youth use, reducing youth availability to cannabis, reducing youth availability to other drugs, reducing binge use, reducing the black market, and the positive things that have come via the tax revenue that has been generated.

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  • …sage insight and advice as always, John. Thanks for your on-going contributions.