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The Beta Days 


The pioneers of the U.S. cannabis industry truly put it all on the line, risking legal prosecution and access to a stable livelihood. In the mid and late 90’s, medical cannabis activists scored major victories with California’s Prop. 215, Colorado’s Amendment 20, and Washington’s RCW 69.51A. The measures were controversial and not popular with large segments of society, but they established a framework to provide medical marijuana (MMJ) patients the legal protections necessary to begin exploring the healing and restorative properties of cannabis. These laws established the rights of patients to use cannabis with the recommendation of a physician.

Those early days were chaotic - wild and unpredictable and sometimes downright white-knuckle terrifying. Small groups of patients came together and shared genetics, growing techniques and recipes.

Small medical gardens began to produce cannabis of exponentially increasing quality. Genetics and recipes were traded between patients in clandestine meet-ups and speakeasy dispensaries. Breeding projects were developed to hone plant attributes. 

As networks formed to share experience and knowledge made possible by freedoms new MMJ guidelines afforded, ancillary businesses - garden supplies, packaging, glassware and more - evolved and expanded. Skeptics converted to supporters as they observed the tangible benefits of cannabis therapy in loved ones.  A social movement around the plant began to gain traction, launching the mighty Beta phase of today’s cannabis industry.

As liberating and exhilarating as the time was, patients were acutely aware that the medicine  at the core of cannabis healthcare was illegal. The constant shadow of Federal drug enforcement kept the MMJ community small. Raids on small home gardens and patient centers were common. At trial, prosecutors highlighted the fact that state laws were in direct conflict with Federal laws that took precedence. 

Then, in 2009, Deputy Attorney General David Ogden released a memo directing US attorneys to “...not focus federal resources in your states on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” With this tacit approval from the Federal government, cannabis activists and legal experts began crafting new legal interpretations and guidelines. Business models evolved to operate within existing legal parameters, pushing boundaries when it appeared viable to do so.  The memo introduced just enough flexibility for patients, care givers and entrepreneurs to create the early networks of collective gardens, brick and mortar dispensaries and support businesses that marked the end of Cannabis Beta and the beginning of Cannabis 1.0 in the United States.


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Chris Guthrie
Chris is the General Manager of Delta9 Systems, a division of General Data Co. He is an expert in the cannabis industry, having participated in the birth of the cannabis industry in Washington, and has operated one of the first and oldest medical dispensaries in Seattle. For a decade, Chris has participated in the design and managed the construction of dozens of indoor gardens, and has been involved in cultivation, processing, retail operations, as well as industry activism.
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