I grew up on the Big Island of Hawaii during the late 1970s and 80s and I was definitely aware that cannabis was around me with some regularity. We called it Pakalolo which is the Hawaiian slang word for cannabis. By the time I was in high school I knew many people who were using it, but in all my years of living in Hawaii, I never tried it. Looking back, like most of America I was most certainly influenced by much of the media on TV during the failed War on Drugs; “This is your brain on drugs,” “Gateway drug,” that sort of thing.
In the mid 90’s I was fortunate enough to get a job in Europe as a traveling software engineer. After a year of being based out of London, my boss offered that I could live anywhere I wanted as long as I had quick access to a large International airport. So, within weeks I packed up a right-hand drive U-Haul and moved to Naarden Vesting, just 20 minutes outside of Amsterdam. One of my software partners there was a retired police officer from the famous Red-Light District in Amsterdam. I learned a lot from him about Holland’s long-standing, sensible, and non-criminal approach to cannabis. From my local Dutch friends, I came to understand more of the cultural and medical aspects surrounding cannabis during the several years that I lived there. By the time I returned to California in 1999, Proposition 215 had been enacted and California’s approach to cannabis was picking up speed. The culture was coming out of the closet and becoming more mainstream in California. I had just moved to Marina Del Rey and was within a 10-minute rollerblade of Venice Beach where dispensaries and script-writing doctors seemed to outnumber Starbucks.
I do wear a few hats within the industry but I hadn’t originally set out with that as my plan. Going back a bit, in 2012 I received a patent for a software platform that automated communications between livery companies providing town car services. I became entrenched in the limousine industry and developed a relationship with Chosen Payments who was rising to become the dominant payment processor for that industry. I honed my payment expertise in the limo industry, and rapidly expanded my client base out to other retail merchants and verticals such as bars, restaurants, attorneys, automotive, CPAs and plastic surgeons to name a few traditional businesses that frequently receive payment via credit cards.
In 2017, sensing the wave of impending legalization of recreational cannabis in California, I decided to go deep into the cannabis vertical. Not realizing how truly different the cannabis industry is when it comes to financial services, I was in for a quick and rude awakening. Banking, and payments for cannabis has been a frustrating process for nearly every business in the industry. Every business owner has horror stories about having their banking or merchant services accounts shut down, funds seized, or a myriad of other financial nightmares. The traditional credit card processing that I was familiar with was forbidden in the cannabis industry and compliant alternatives were required.
My entrepreneurial instincts made me realize that I needed to spend more time and energy to help change the things that I thought needed addressing within the industry. I also felt it was important to volunteer my time and pay it forward to support the business community from which I expected to make a living. With its national effort to reform some of the banking issues we were all facing in the industry, NORML became that vehicle for me. I found that NORML’s mission aligned very well with my core values. I learned everything I could about consumer activism, safe access, social equity, expungement policy, employment protections, and education. I ramped up my time and effort within the organization and realized that Los Angeles, where I have lived for over 34 years, is a perfect microcosm of the industry as we are undoubtedly the largest cannabis-friendly city on the planet and well-positioned to set a positive example. With a mature medical marijuana market, a plethora of cannabis companies basing themselves in Southern California, a liberal government and a county population larger than 41 U.S. states, Los Angeles is where consumers, industry, and policymakers come together to define how cannabis will become integrated into our communities.
NORML is proud to be celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, but even 50 years on, there is still a lot of work remaining to be done. Please come to our website www.LANORML.org and consider joining our mailing list for free, becoming a paid supporting member, or if you are a business, consider becoming a Mission Partner where we will promote your business to our community. Since Los Angeles NORML is an all-volunteer organization, our supporting packages are priced extremely low with annual memberships and Mission Partner packages beginning at only $25.
Please come attend one of our free Monthly Public Meetings that occur on the 3rd Wednesday of each month at 4pm PST. We provide educational content, legislative news, and A-list celebrity interviews. We were recently honored to have CannabisTalk101 and the Pot Brothers at Law come join us for a special show with Tommy Chong, Keith Stroup, Bruce Margolin, Brett Harrelson, Mario Guzman A.K.A Mr. Sherbinski, Todd McCormick, Erick Altieri, and Chris Dell-Olio.
We are always looking for additional volunteers who are willing to get directly involved and help push forward our NORML agenda. We currently have openings in our Marketing, Government Affairs, Membership, and Community Outreach departments. Please visit our website and contact us if you have positive energy to give and would like to be a part of Los Angeles NORML.
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One of the oldest chapters in the country, Los Angeles NORML was founded in 1973 and is a regional chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. We support NORML’s mission to repeal the prohibition of marijuana at the local, state and federal level by educating those in our community about marijuana and hemp and their potential medical and industrial use while promoting the responsible use of marijuana by adults.