Company hopes to be 'Amazon of Cannabis' in such places as ND
BISMARCK—As medical marijuana legalization slowly moves forward in North Dakota, some national companies are already taking a look at working with dispensaries.
One such outfit hopes to be the "Amazon of Cannabis," said owner and founder Socrates Rosenfeld, an Army veteran who flew and commanded a team of Apache helicopters in the Iraq War.
After fighting to find peace for himself and feeling isolated from people that he loved after his war service and seven years in the Army, Rosenfeld's wife offered him an option he had been conditioned to oppose due to years in the military and social stigma.
It was medical marijuana in his home state of Massachusetts and Rosenfeld found it helped him physically, mentally and spiritually.
He said he came across countless fellow veterans who sought access to safe and regulated cannabis.
"They are near and dear to my heart and it's another reason I'm pursuing this work," Rosefeld said.
He partnered with his brother, a wizard with computers, and other classmates from Massachusetts Institute of Technology to form Jane Technologies, an online marketplace where customers can search local dispensaries' menu items, compare prices and products with other state dispensaries and then reserve those items for in-store pickup or delivery.
"With only eight dispensaries in North Dakota planned, imagine in the dead of winter driving over to a dispensary, getting there and then realizing the product you wanted is no longer there," said Rosenfeld.
"That's not the way people should be shopping," he said.
That's why he is using the Amazon model to offer his online services with a price of only $1 per order charged to dispensaries. Consumers use the the online service for free, he said.
The only difference with Amazon is that they aren't taking business away from local dispensaries or retail stores as they only provide the online aid to them. He added also that unlike Amazon, the dispensaries can't deliver across state lines and can't of course use U.S. mail since the use, possession, sale, cultivation, and transportation of cannabis is illegal under federal law.
He said he "absolutely" would like to work with North Dakota dispensaries, who would face only a minimal cost to hook into the Jane Technologies system.
"It's a win-win for customers and stores using this sophisticated way of shopping," Rosenfeld said.
Competition over who gets to grow and sell medical marijuana in North Dakota is expected to be strong, according to Jason Wahl, the interim director of the North Dakota Department of Health's medical marijuana division.
Besides the eight dispensaries, the law written by the state Legislature earlier this year allowed only two growing facilities.
So far, more than 115 groups or companies have submitted letters of intent to apply to be a dispensary or manufacturer. Wahl said it hasn't been determined at all yet where the dispensaries will be located, but geographically located facilities have been discussed in meetings.
The next step in the process comes next month when public hearings will be held at six cities around the state by the health department to get public opinion on 50 pages of proposed rules that are available online on the health department's website. The hearings will be in Belcourt, Williston, Bismarck, Minot, Fargo and Grand Forks.
One of those proposed rules allows for deliveries of marijuana to patients which would fit into Rosenfeld's plan to help patients get product more easily.
Wahl said being a rural state with the long distances it only made sense to add it in the proposed rules. He said the rules also call for tight restrictions with only those with registered cards for medical marijuana accepting the product.
Wahl said he acknowledges the criticism about the lengthy process of getting the medical marijuana offerings in place, but said the department would have been wasting its time and resources if they would have started working on the rules before the Legislature finally approved the law on April 18.
"So the clock really only started ticking then," Wahl said.
Rosenfeld knows about the time it takes to get a system going. In his home state of Massachusetts, they aren't expected to get the recreational medical marijuana program going until next July 1 after voters approved it last fall. California begins its recreation program on Jan. 1 after approval last fall..
The majority of the country, 29 states, have legalized medical marijuana. Besides Massachusetts and California, six other states and the District of Columbia have fully legalized the product for recreational purposes for people over 21. They are Maine, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Colorado.
Rosenfeld's company, which has its headquarters in Santa Cruz, Calif., is already working with about 120 dispensaries in five of the states.
He hopes to add more in North Dakota, but the growth potential nonetheless is off the charts as Rosenfeld said the cannabis industry is projected to be a $30 billion marketplace by 2021 making it one of the fastest growing industries in this generation.
Andrew Hazzard contributed to this report