Going Legit

The MMJ industry now has a chamber of commerce—and J.M. has mixed feelings

The words chamber of commerce have never left a very good taste in my mouth.

It's not the kind of spit-that-shit-out-I'm-gonna-puke bad taste left there by, say, hard-core social conservatives or the words "political action committee," but neither is it the fine, lingering tang of a good pinot grigio. It's somewhere in between.

But when I heard about the emerging Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, my gut reaction was different. The name seems to roll off my tongue a little easier than the name of a traditional chamber might.

The cannabis chamber, which met recently in Phoenix but welcomes members from Tucson or anywhere in the state, aims to unite MMJ collectives, dispensaries, patient associations or other businesses, said Ken Sobel, the chamber vice president. He's a University of Arizona graduate and Spring Fling founder who has practiced law in Arizona and California since 1980.

"The idea is to be in business by the time dispensaries start opening," said Sobel, who has focused on marijuana law in recent years.

The chamber is eager to recruit Tucson members. Sobel hopes to include all businesses with any connection to MMJ, including marketing, distributing, growing and even packaging.

Although having a chamber of commerce implies profit, Sobel is also ready to pull the trigger on at least two nonprofit Tucson dispensaries when the state Department of Health Services starts taking applications in April. The city preliminarily approved two of his locations, one at 3359 N. Freeway, and another at a location he declined to identify. A city map shows 31 approved sites spread across most parts of town.

"You can apply for up to five," Sobel said. He isn't sure how many spots he will have eventually.

Until he can open a dispensary, Sobel has opened the nonprofit Green Halo Caregiver Collective at the Freeway location. The collective is open from 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. For a one-time $20 membership fee, patients can stock up on a variety of meds. The membership fee gets you 2 grams of free meds on your first visit, and you can get up to the limit of 2 ounces every two weeks.

Sobel isn't sure how long his collective can last after dispensaries open, because with dispensaries in place, the law will block caregivers from growing for patients unless patients live more than 25 miles from a dispensary.

"Once the dispensaries open, it will be difficult, at best, to maintain a collective," he said.

So it seems that my dream—a world of collective love, free of the oppressive stench of dispensary regulation—is going to die on the vine. So long, Tucson AZ Collective. It was good to know ya.

I guess all this news of businesses and city zoning approval and chamber of commerce-ism leaves me with mixed feelings. Part of me is glad it's happening, glad that cannabis is getting the kind of legitimacy that breeds chambers of commerce and conversations that include the words marketing, distribution and packaging.

But I hope the MMJ community can find a place to settle that will appease The Man without morphing into the man. Once you start using the term chamber of commerce, you're skating pretty close to stuffy ties and dark suits and meetings and briefcases and very corporate-like behaviors, with nuances that spark an interesting taste in my mouth.

I think I'll have to savor it a while before I know if I like it or not.

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