It is about to create the first industrial crop in Uruguay and selling over a hundred varieties of marijuana in Chicago, Nevada, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Oregon. Here reveals the intimacies of a business that is just beginning and has become an economic solution for millions of patients with chronic diseases in the United States.
“Growing marijuana is an art, each plant is an entity in itself, its temperature, humidity, hours in the sun. It has its own sexual chemistry, everything has to be perfect, “he explains Norton Arbelaez in the middle of a huge property of more than fifty thousand square feet, where the offices and classrooms production company RiverRock in Colorado rise, north of the city of Denver. More than five thousand marijuana plants fill the enclosure. The grooves hundred entering and leaving about a dozen workers who review one by one the stems, leaves and buds of every tree of cannabis with pinpoint accuracy, with an almost surgical devotion.
At 34, this son of Colombian born in Southern California is a celebrity in the marijuana industry in the United States.Before he was an insurance lawyer with a talent for persuasion derived from its “paisa genetics.” Recently opened operations for the largest grower and distributor of medicinal cannabis in Massachusetts, and took part in the V Latin American Conference on Drug Policy, in Costa Rica, but not before passing by Uruguay, which manages the licenses for the first industrial cultivation of marijuana in that country. “This would be a large-scale never seen before, would really making history,” he says with the same vision that took him a few years ago to lead in the local legislature the regulatory framework for commercial production of cannabis in the state of Colorado, a model that has today the world with the eyes in the experiment.Half businessman and politician half, Norton RiverRock founded in 2009, with his partner John Kocer, a guy like one meter seventy, acuerpado and very easygoing, whom he met when they studied together in Chile in a university exchange. Today, both are owners of one of the largest marijuana dispensaries throughout Colorado, the first state of the Union gamble by a universal legalization of weed.
“Ten years ago nobody would have thought we would have a legal industry of marijuana more than two billion dollars a year, not only were helping thousands of patients around the country, but only in Colorado, a state with limited five million inhabitants, has generated more than thirty thousand jobs “, he explains.
Only this crop out a year about three tons of marijuana, particularly in cycles of four months, not a day longer, the time it takes a female seed in developing, with good light and food, in an adult plant ready for drying, dismembering and, of course, smoking. “Here does not grow grass, medicine is grown,” Norton corrects me. “This is a very powerful kills to me changed my life,” he assures me.When he was 24 years old, a car accident left him almost lifeless. A contusion with two compressed vertebrae began a chronic pain in his back. “I spent almost three months in the hospital, I took all, Percodan, codeine, the most severe opioid imagine, and nothing”. All went well until a friend advised medical marijuana. Two weeks later, and after overcoming the street market in search of grass, he managed to control the pain to return to Tulane University, where he graduated summa cum laude as a lawyer.
Science and potheads the world know that the effects of marijuana come from its content tetrahidrocannabidol (THC), but only so far known in detail another ingredient of the plant, cannabidiol (CBD) has properties neuroprotective, anti-ischemic, immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory characteristics that have become a lifeline for such severe conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, cancer and HIV.
In RiverRock nothing is left to chance. All plants have a bar code that tracks from seed to sale. You can not be more modernized. Each plant is sent to the laboratory to determine the exact percentages of THC and CBD, then poderles assign their healing or recreational potential.Their appearance, color and flavor must be blameless, yerba own a hundred percent organic, free of pesticides.
On leaving the forest “mota” as they say here Latino cannabis, we crossed a door that enters as large as six golf basketball cellar. With more than twelve air-conditioned rooms, divided into the three states of the -vegetativo plant, decrease and harvested, the space has a total of 1,500 bushes of marijuana. Cycles of twelve hours of artificial light and constant irrigation, seven days a week, are part of the equation costly to grow hydroponic way.Then there are the drying silos, huge rooms where hundreds of kilos of grass are dried in trays with huge cracks, while workers in a kind of assembly line automotive, review them one by one.
Norton was in Pereira to six years. There he picked up the corn taste and anise, legacies of his mother, from Calarca, Quindio. His father, an engineer born in Dosquebradas, was transferred to a General Motors plant in Oklahoma, place to be the only Latin for little crazy. Everything changed when they turn fifteen, when he left that corner of the southeastern United States to live with his aunt and uncle in Paris. There his worldview lost her virginity.
another door opens, this time bigger, and I meet again in front of a full horizon of hundreds of plants under tungsten lights. Norton runs through the living room playing and reviewing each effusively. “I do not know why this plant is so demonized. So many therapeutic and general welfare benefits is impossible to ignore its potential. I do not give more than ten years that look the prohibition of marijuana as something of the past. ”
“There’s always someone here or there who knows you, who wants to talk business, politics and cannabis,” he says me to confess to having smoked weed with US congressmen, academics, civic leaders and even with his dad. “Everyone wants to know how we are succeeding.”Norton has appeared in Newsweek, 60 Minutes and High Times, one of the most prestigious magazines on marijuana-and is one of the few Latinos in the industry.
However, having one of the most prosperous and progressive business time was not easy. Up in the neck, he came to Denver in February 2009, with a suitcase, an iPod full of vallenato and boleros, and something close to four million pesos in his pocket. “We started fifty plants growing in a small room, sometimes used to sleep at night. They were two long years without leaving there, days of more than 16 hours. Still, we ended the month just to pay the rent “.
Gradually the business grew, while Norton became a freehand every leader of the nascent industry of cannabis in Colorado, allowing you to take advantage of the weight of investors who managed to unleash their potential. Five years later, he has sold more than four million, has two clinics and nearly a hundred employees, most of them Americans and Latinos between 25 and 40 years, who have had to pass a rigorous background check. “2014 has been a year of crazy, come to prepare all papers to access licenses production and sale of medical marijuana in Chicago, Nevada, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Oregon,” he says. This negotiation, which made him and his partners, become barons in charge of the operation largest medical cannabis in the United States.
Norton is one meter eighty, gives long strides and speaks perfect English. Walk another huge hall where ten employees dismember the bows of marijuana in leafy green cotton bolls, the pace of Ziggy Marley. Through another door entered the clinic, a huge enclosure with wooden floor, spotless as an operating room, where behind a huge desk five budtenders, or baristas cannabis, cater to customers, which must go through two security checks before enter here: one on the street and one at the reception, where the age of majority is verified. In Colorado, to buy recreational marijuana, you have to be 21 years old and you can only buy up to 7 grams of cannabis.If you are a resident of the state, you can buy up to 28 grams of the herb.
On the shelves there are more than one hundred varieties of Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, with cookies, cakes, lollipops, tea, chocolate bars and sodas medicated with 100 mg and 500 mg THC, sold as rice, like oils, ointments, pills and patches. Norton’s favorite variety is the Island Sweet Skunk, a hybrid between sativa and indica, with high levels of THC and CBD, a perfect recipe to relax the body and increase blood flow.
Overwhelmingly, customers of the clinic are adults. In row I meet Caroline Shoder, a woman of 67 years who use medical cannabis since 2011. A severe cerebral ischemia, with multiple sclerosis, they changed his life more than a decade. “They were years of very strong pills, sometimes made me convulse, the pain would not let me live,” he explains. Caroline can not smoke, but eating a cookie a day to about 300 mg THC, a dose that helps with insomnia and muscle spasms. “Before costosísimas used drugs. I spent about four thousand dollars a month, while medical marijuana only spending $ 300 without any of the frightening side effects. ”
I stay in the room of the clinic while Norton returns to his office to meet a delegation of Florida investors who want to invest in your business. Back to the line and I meet John, a veteran Philadelphia native who, after an accident, suffered a stroke and severe arthritis. For five years he could not walk, “I could not walk more than ten steps, could not write. The pain was unbearable. Today, after a year with medical marijuana, I can walk, I can even open my right hand and sign my name. My life changed and I just spent $ 200 a month. It’s a blessing”.
Back to Norton office at the end of dispensary. The walls are full of diplomas and city permits, business, plantations, but I fixed especially in a gigantic gold medal. Last year, RiverRock won the highest medal for the best strain of medical marijuana in the World Cup Cannabis organized by the magazine High Times.
“It is for them, patients, everything I do makes sense. To give them the best natural medicine to people who have been abandoned by high costs, side effects and addictive traditional medicine. This is not about the ticket, or swag [-the charm-] yerba “, he assures me.
We leave RiverRock five minutes in his car, a Subaru Outback 2010, and passed in front of another of its premises in the south of the city of Denver. Twenty other people working there. Already in the downtown, the heart of this city of more than half a million people, we go straight to 16th Street Mall, a path paved by which unfolds over one mile of shops.
Since 1 January, when the sale and use of recreational marijuana came into force, Denver became the Amsterdam of our continent. More than a hundred thousand tourists arrive a month to get lost in the trappings of the plant still remains banned in most of the planet. We walked along the pedestrian sidewalk, where I discover a city full of Gothic architecture, contrasted with buildings that simulate huge fish tanks that account for a city of great economic activity. At ground level, smoke shops sell pipes, cigars, vaporizers, threshers. Meters ahead there are also clinics and massage centers with marijuana. But there are no bars, because smoking the herb, according to the law passed in Colorado, must be restricted to private places. “This is nothing, we are working to convert in 2016 to Las Vegas the world capital of cannabis. It will be something from another world and, of course, there will be. ”
In front of one of these stores out I see a man who apparently speaks Spanish. It is called Antonio and Mexico.He explains, with a package in hand, to buy speck in the legal market, where you know what you sell, is a change from heaven to earth. “Before it was a Russian roulette in the darkness of the street, where anything can happen.That’s over, now I buy without fear or danger. ”
We entered a Mexican fusion food, one of the best in Denver, a city that also shines by its heavy gastronomic circuit. A Norton, despite liking the brandy, tequila causes fascination. Order two glasses of stale Sun King, a distillate 12 years comes from Jalisco. “The alcohol, delicious and revered it, yes it is a problem. This kills people, makes violent. Cannabis, however, has another power, frequency connecting people, to help the body “, he explains.
Behind the words millimetric Norton and figure without frills, flashy watches or cars, there is an ingenious entrepreneur and tanning industry by an easy walk. “It’s very hard, banks will not lend us money, we do not keep the money, want nothing to do with us. Moreover, the IRS (tax agency of the United States) does not allow us to deduct taxes or rent, payroll, or the investments we make, as if they can do other business. ” Only had to pay last year more than one million dollars in taxes, ie, they are taxed about 65% of the profits. He explains that it is an open secret that while not been able to close these businesses by political means, if want to end financial shape. It should be recalled that although 23 states and the District of Washington allow medical marijuana at the federal level cultivation, sale and distribution of marijuana is still illegal in every way. This keeps the states and the federal government in a constant struggle.
After a chimichangas and gorgonzola lamb, he tells me about his grandfather, Don Jose J. Bustamante. “From small me into his head that the best way to spend the ticket was traveling. Is that why I love to enjoy myself on the way. ” Since January 2014 he went to Cuba, London, Las Vegas, Chile, Costa Rica, São Paulo, Mexico, Canada, Belize and Colombia.
On Colombia, he says it is very important that the medical marijuana debate begins. “The leadership of Senator Galan and the Liberal Party, and the same President Santos, show a change in mentality. We are to understand that legalization of medical marijuana will give an enormous therapeutic alternative for thousands of poor patients. If properly regulated, it achieved industry shield any criminal hand. I am the proof of that and am willing to give all my experience in this process, “says Norton, who confesses me who dreams of opening operations medicinal cannabis in Colombia.
“Here in Colorado we have a biometric system, a strict regulatory system. Everything is controlled from seed to sale to avoid marketing under the table, and the entry of product from the narcos. In addition, the review of judicial records, as well as the origin of the money, are exhaustive.This has been dragged out of the equation criminal gangs.What is happening in Colorado, which this year expects to raise about $ 63 million in taxes from cannabis, is a sample of what can be achieved elsewhere in the world. ”