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Phoenix NewTimes: Medical Marijuana Biz a Sham

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The passage (barely) of Prop 203 in Arizona means the beginning of a new medical marijuana industry. The law requires patients to purchase marijuana from dispensaries if they exist within 25 miles of their residence. The law dictates there can only be one dispensary for every ten pharmacies, so there can be up to 186 dispensaries in the state.

Naturally entrepreneurs are interested in starting these new businesses and others are providing education on how to get started. The Phoenix NewTimes takes a look at one cannabis educator and does everything it can to portray the industry as an illegitimate rip-off.

(Phoenix NewTimes) We attended a class at Arizona Dispensary University, the new medical marijuana “college,” on Friday. The foremost thing we learned is that people can make a lot of money selling public information and “expert” advice about our impending medical marijuana industry. People want to know how to get patient cards, how to open dispensaries, and how to operate grow sites. And they’ll pay hundreds of dollars for a guide.

First we get scare quotes around “college” just because the educator is offering a cannabis business seminar and not running a standard college.  Yet there are beauty “colleges”, online “colleges”, and other educational events referred to as “colleges” that wouldn’t resemble a traditional “college”.  Then we get “expert” advice with scare quotes, as if someone claiming to teach people how to get in on the ground floor of the cannabis industry is somehow defrauding people about his expertise.

ADU is located in the Bell Canyon Pavilions strip mall just off the I-17, and bills itself as “the most comprehensive school of it’s [sic] kind in America!” The class we took, “Initiative 101,” began with a bad joke and a disclaimer from ADU founder and instructor Allan Sobol, operations manager of Marijuana Marketing Strategies, LLC.

If I had nickel for every misuse of apostrophes and misunderstanding of the third-person singular neutral possessive pronoun, even by those educational institutions that should know better (Western New England “College”, “University” of Georgia), I could afford a dime bag.  A simple typo made by many Americans is no reason to impugn the validity of a dispensary education service.

First, Sobol, dressed in a white lab coat, pulled out what was obviously a big, fat fake joint and said he’d pass it around to relax everybody before we began. He asked for a lighter, which no one offered, then laughed and said we’d passed our first test. Then he said most of what we’d hear during the three-hour class was based on fact, but some of it was hearsay and speculation.

Sobol told us he was a marketing analyst and consultant, a paralegal, a private investigator, and has more than 40 years of experience in business management. We’re not sure if that was based on fact or hearsay, but we will say the man knows how to make a buck.

We can tell potential industry entrepreneurs what lawyers think may be legal, but until it is litigated, it is hearsay.  There’s no reason to call Sobol’s credentials into doubt as “hearsay” because he’s telling us first-hand.  Once again, the writer is simply trying to smear the industry by attacking Sobol.

There were more than 30 people in our class, all crammed together on metal folding chairs in a small room, and with one exception (we media), each person paid $100 to be there. That’s $3000 for one class. ADU holds mostly sold-out classes twice per day, an average of four days a week. Cha-ching!

So what?  Nobody is forcing anyone to spend $100 on a class.  The rent at the strip mall has to be paid, as well as the utilities, and that’s for all seven days a week, not just the four days he’s folding classes.  How is Mr. Sobol any different than the various “business management seminars” that come through town charging people $300 or more at some hotel to watch PowerPoint presentations and get a folder with some documents?

So, what were people getting for their money in this “Initiative 101″ class? Well, for those who’ve read The Arizona Medical Marijuana Act in its entirety or visited the AZ Department of Health website recently, not much. And for anybody who read our coverage of Prop 203 leading up to the election, even less.

The second hour, Sobol talked about the history of medical marijuana initiatives in Arizona (Google it for free), and referred to the Voter Protection Act of 1998 as the “Voter’s Rights Act.” He also discussed how potential patients and dispensary owners can get cards and licenses (again, the most current information from ADHS is public).

Sure it is!  So are Spanish language dictionaries – you could go online and teach yourself Español.  You could go online to newspapers and websites and learn all the pronunciations, all the verb tenses, and even find folks worldwide with whom to chat and practice your Spanish.

But most people are not auto-didactic and prefer to learn things in a structured way from an expert instructor.  I taught computer software for years – like Excel and Word – stuff I am completely self-taught on.  I never bought a book or took a class; I taught myself using online materials, help files, and trial and error.  Yet every week, people would spend $179 each to listen to me teach them the stuff they could have learned like I did.  Why is that so unacceptable for learning dispensary operations?  People like to be able to ask questions and be taught in layman’s terms.

The third and final hour is when it got most informative, as Sobol talked about establishing and contracting with grow facilities, drawing up professional business plans for dispensaries, projected operational expenses, and marketing strategies. He recommended attorneys and accountants.

Finally, Sobol announced that future ADU classes would include lessons on the application process. Included in the $250 class fee is a financial plan, and a 20-page business plan people can modify and submit with their applications.

We should point out — just as Sobol legally had to – that neither he nor ADU have any kind of insider access to getting a patient or dispensary application approved. They’re simply providing information (along with heavy doses of speculation) and offering advice. Attending a class at ADU doesn’t guarantee anything for anyone — except a nice fat profit for Sobol and co.

Just as taking my classes in Excel doesn’t guarantee you become the chart wizard and data analysis expert that I am.  All education can ever guarantee you is a knowledge and then only if you apply yourself.  Mr. Sobol is providing an educational service and making good money doing it – that’s no crime in America, unless you’re an underpaid beat writer for the Phoenix NewTimes with a case of sour grapes and an agenda to disrespect medical marijuana in Arizona.


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