Unease over marijuana dampens enthusiasm for small-business potential

By Patrick Sisneros Herald Columnist

Marijuana. Business. The two are about to intersect with unknown consequences.

Since 2008, this column has been a passionate advocate for supporting people willing to take a risk and start their own small business. There are huge benefits to our community that come with scores of growing, dynamic enterprises.

We’ve also written that with any business comes the obligation to be socially responsible and satisfy the interests of all its different stakeholders: its customers, employees, suppliers and the community. This must be done because it is the right thing to do and in order to survive and prosper over the long term.

This summer, there will be a new class of small businesses licensed and regulated by the state to sell recreational marijuana.

I must admit that the marijuana business gives me pause.

I’m having trouble reconciling my usual enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and its world of new ventures and ideas with concerns about the impact these marijuana establishments will have on the community — especially our young people. It’s not clear to me how the recreational marijuana industry will satisfy its obligation around social responsibility.

I read with interest remarks by California Gov. Jerry Brown about the topic.

Brown, on “Meet the Press,” said, “All of a sudden, if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation? The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”

Tough words from Brown, but it gets to the uneasiness I feel about these new ventures.

I appreciate the rationale for legalizing marijuana: the impact its illegal status has had on our judicial system and the cost to enforce drug laws. The positive impact new tax revenue will have in times of tight government budgets and the inherent hypocrisy of a society that allows the sale of tobacco and alcohol, but not marijuana.

I get it.

But, there’s also hypocrisy in a message that it is unhealthy to smoke cigarettes but now it is all right to smoke weed, especially given a recent study of casual marijuana use in the Journal of Neuroscience that showed significant negative changes to the brain.

I wonder if the increased tax revenue is going to be worth it.

John Mackey, co-CEO and founder of Whole Foods, describes what all businesses should strive to be:

“Think of a business that cares profoundly about the well-being of its customers. … Envision a business that embraces outsiders as insiders, inviting its suppliers into the family circle. … Imagine a business that exercises great care in whom it hires, where hardly anyone ever leaves once he or she joins. … Imagine a business that exists in a virtuous cycle of multifaceted value creation, generating social, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, cultural, physical and ecological wealth and well-being for everyone it touches.”

Can recreational marijuana enterprises live up to Mackey’s standards?

Time will tell.

Let me know what you think. Send your comments to entrepreneurship@everettcc.edu.

Pat Sisneros is the vice president of College Services at Everett Community College.