Colorado cannabis kingpin John Lord wants to open stores in NZ
The expat Kiwi who heads Colorado's biggest weed seller promises thousands of jobs for New Zealand if the drug is legalised here. John Lord spoke with Florence Kerr as part of Stuff's 'What if it was legal?' series.
He's done it in Colorado, so would John Lord peddle legal pot back home in New Zealand?
Lord, the New Zealand farmer turned Colorado's biggest weed dealer, believes legalisation is the way forward for his former country.
"New Zealand's population is currently 4.5 million. So if the legal cannabis industry were to generate a similar number of jobs relative to the overall population, you'd be looking at somewhere around 15,000 jobs created directly by cannabis businesses," he said.
"However, if you were to include all the jobs created by ancillary businesses serving the industry, including those in software, security, packaging, technology, real estate, construction, compliance, etc, that number would increase significantly."
Lord, who is chief executive of LivWell Enlightened Health, said New Zealand lawmakers needed to reconsider their stance.
"Based on what we've seen here in Colorado, I would imagine legalisation would have the same positive economic impacts in New Zealand that it has had here.
"That includes the creation of thousands of good-paying jobs, a boon to commercial real estate, increased funds for tax coffers that can be used to fund any number of worthy initiatives, fewer tax dollars being spent to arrest and house people in jail for cannabis-related offences, decreasing the burden on police officers who can direct their attention to more pressing public safety concerns, new economic activity that will support countless ancillary businesses serving the industry and perhaps even some increased tourism."
In 2009, the first year after recreational cannabis was approved, total sales in Colorado amounted to $699.2 million. The second year, sales were $996.2m.
By 2016, the figure reached $1.3 billion. Recreational marijuana accounted for two-thirds of that, medicinal marijuana for a third.
LivWell has 14 stores and 600 full-time staff.
By 2015, the cannabis industry in Colorado had generated 18,000 full-time positions. Colorado's population is 5.5 million.
Lord, who once took $2m in a backpack to pay his taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, said if legalisation happened, he would bring his LivWell brand to New Zealand.
"We are always looking for new opportunities to grow our business, so anything is possible. Of course, it would make my trips home tax deductable, so that's a bonus."
But before legalisation, Lord said the public and lawmakers needed more information about marijuana.
"If you look at the actual facts and what has happened in Colorado and other states that have moved forward with legalisation, you'll see that all the things prohibitionists warned would happen – like more crime and violence, increased teen usage, etc – have simply not occurred.
"In fact, teen usage in Colorado has actually decreased since legalisation. Unlike criminal drug dealers, we in the legal industry check the ID of each and every one of our customers to make sure they are of age to purchase. The only way a minor can get their hands on cannabis in Colorado is through an illegal act.
"Again, we need to remember that cannabis was not invented the day it was legalised in Colorado. People who want to consume cannabis have always found ways to get it, both here and in New Zealand. Those who imagine that the public is somehow safer when cannabis is illegal are deluding themselves."
People would always use cannabis so regulators needed to decide the best way of handling that demand.
"When cannabis is illegal, the market consists of criminal drug cartels peddling cannabis and whatever else they can to whomever is willing to buy it, and then using the proceeds of those transactions to fund more crime and violence.
"When cannabis is legal, the market consists of legitimate businesses which are heavily regulated by the state, whose products are taxed and tested, whose employees must all complete background checks in order to work in the industry, whose customers must prove they are of age to purchase the product, and whose tax dollars go towards funding law enforcement, public education, drug treatment programs, and any number of other things.
"When you frame the question this way, it is hard to imagine any reasonable person deciding that prohibition is better for society than legalisation."