PORTSMOUTH — About 40 people packed a conference room at the Marriott Residence Inn on Saturday to learn about the business of medicinal marijuana.
The daylong seminar was offered by the Cannabis Career Institute of California. The institute has been offering seminars around the country since 2009, but this is the first time one has been held in New Hampshire.
Those in attendance crossed age and gender categories and came from around New England. What brought them together was a desire to learn more about how to legally conduct a medicinal marijuana business.
The growing, selling, smoking or ingesting of marijuana is still illegal in New Hampshire, so few people were willing to talk openly with the New Hampshire Union Leader about what brought them to the institute.
Bill of Manchester, who asked that his last name not be used, said he is a licensed social worker and has seen the benefits of medicinal marijuana use by his patients, in particular veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. He said it helps clients calm down enough to make it through a session or to deal more effectively with their lives without having to use prescription drugs and endure the side effects associated with their use.
Heath Curtis of Maine is a legal medicinal marijuana cardholder in his home state and by law is allowed to grow up to six plants.
He said he came to learn more about how to grow his business legally and to interact with other like-minded professionals in the local industry.
Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., have medical marijuana laws, and two states have legalized recreational use of cannabis. Eight additional states, including New Hampshire, have medical laws pending.
The New Hampshire Legislature is debating a marijuana bill that Cannabis Career Institute Vice President John Veit said is fraught with problems. Veit said the New Hampshire proposal offers an untenable business model by allowing only three licenses and said many people who need the medicine will not be able to get it.
Veit said the Legislature should "loosen things up as much as possible" and that the only place where he feels a law is really working is California.
"Because the law is designed by clever marijuana people with as many loopholes as you can get right now," Veit said.
During the seminar, information was provided from various speakers, including area attorneys who spoke to local marijuana laws, a cannabis chef who spoke about extraction and various delivery methods and a specialist in growing.
The goal of the institute is to help cannabis entrepreneurs create successful businesses, with expectations that the robust and growing industry will continue to be a significant job creator into the future.
Veit said jobs in the industry are not just focused on growth and distribution — there are electricians and plumbers who specialize in cannabis growing, interior designers focused on designing dispensaries and consultants who hire themselves out to help dispensaries get off the ground.
Veit said that as news about marijuana's legitimacy becomes more prevalent, more people are gaining enthusiasm about getting involved.
"We help people set their goals, make a plan, figure out their action team, legal strategy, business strategy, horticultural strategy," Veit said. "There are so many different niches and specialties in the industry that some guidance is extremely helpful to figure out which one you want to get involved with."
Veit said they visit states where the laws are emerging or changing, like New Hampshire. This year, the institute's most successful forums were held in Chicago and Ohio, where there are no medical marijuana laws.
Veit said he thinks overall that people seem to be OK with the use of marijuana for medical purposes and do not understand why it is still illegal.
Where he lives, in Los Angeles, he said pharmaceuticals are used as a last resort, even in the most typical suburban family.
Bill said he was afraid there would be a "Jerry Garcia/stoner vibe" at the seminar, but found those in attendance to be professional and from all walks of life.
There was such demand for the seminar, another one is being tentatively scheduled in Portsmouth for April.