13 Apr 2016

Dairy farmer to legal cannabis dealer

From Nine To Noon, 9:17 am on 13 April 2016

A former Waikato dairy farmer has become one of the largest legal drug dealers in the United States.

John Lord helms Colorado cannabis dispensary chain LivWell, a medicinal and recreational marijuana business which is seen as a pioneer in the development of the legalised marijuana industry in the Untied States.

As well as owning stores that sell cannabis products, the company employs 500 people, including scientists, inventors, and farmers.

Drug reform has been in the news in New Zealand recently after Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said he was open to reviewing evidence around the decriminalisation of cannabis following calls to allow the use of marijuana on medical grounds.

Mr Lord told Nine to Noon he got involved with the Colorado cannabis industry in 2009 after becoming disillusioned with dairy farming in New Zealand.

"I found that (farming) extremely frustrating. I think it was one of the few business in the world where you never ... market anything yourself.

"You had no idea what you were really earning until a year after you've earned it - it was very hard to run a business in that way.

He moved into manufacturing and importing child-safety seats, and then began exporting them overseas, including to Walmart and Kmart in the US.

After tiring of the commute between New Zealand and the US he decided to move to Denver, Colorado, and in 1998 he purchased a company, which he sold 10 years later.

"I really got bored with retirement after a few months and was going to probably make trouble for myself in some form or another. This seemed to have all of that adventure, it was something very new - new business is such a rare thing today."

A background in child-safety seats meant he was used to a high level of government regulation, so when he entered the cannabis industry, as it moved towards legalisation, he was able to make the shift smoothly.

"I think I found the transition of bringing this new industry into the light a little bit easier than perhaps someone who had been growing out the back."
The industry is highly regulated in Colorado, and based on rules around the sale of alcohol. It is overseen by the Marijuana Enforcement Division, a branch of the Department of Revenue.

Mr Lord said black marketeers' product had to pass through a long supply chain to get to their customers. However, LivWell was vertically integrated - it  grew and dispensed its own product, which meant it could undercut the black market price.

"Those that were  dealing in the black market here moved their attention to other states. That will be an interesting sort of a situation for New Zealand being an island in the South Pacific - where do they go?"