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OPINION: Growing Responsibility

As Virginia prepares to decriminalize marijuana on July 1, it’s our responsibility to stay smart, safe and informed regarding the new laws.

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Do you like cannabis?

It’s a question we can openly ask now, as Virginia prepares to change its laws July 1 to allow for personal cultivation, sharing and use of the substance among adults.

Despite the changes though, people often react oddly when I ask them if they like cannabis, reflecting years of conditioning around its illegal status. All that is about to change as of July 1, and this moment in time should be met with both great enthusiasm, and a particular awareness of the responsibility we have to the moment.

The laws going into effect July 1 decriminalize certain aspects of growing, possessing, sharing and using the drug known as marijuana, pot, bud, weed, herb, ganja, reefer, the devil’s lettuce and a host of other names. Effectively, the changes in the law are going to create a whole new business, a whole new market, for Virginians to take part in. They will also pave the way for people negatively impacted by decades of drug enforcement to stake out claims in this market. Entrepreneurs like me see how this is going to create a brand-new demand for goods and services statewide that will boost economic activity and establish the paths to success for social equity participants. The new market will create demands for land, for warehousing space, for the tools and specialized equipment needed for growing, for transportation and shipping, security personnel, business services for this market, as well as all the traditional inputs needed to start a business. The air is heavy with the scent of opportunity.

Virginians are curious about the product and the proper way to grow it, cultivate it and what they can do with it when it’s time to harvest. Our store, Happy Trees, is a community-focused grow shop with the goal of educating consumers. The parade of people into our Scott’s Addition store asking questions about the plant is varied: the young professional looking for relief from anxiety, the 80-year-old grandma seeking pain remedies for various aging body parts and the combat veteran seeking help for physical and mental suffering related to their service. I’ve seen cannabis and CBD oil help people like this when modern medicine has failed, and so we willingly share our knowledge about cannabis and CBD to those who are unsure about the product, curious about it or specifically looking for a natural alternative to alleviate whatever may be ailing them.

However, anybody operating in this new market must do so with full awareness of the responsibility they have to their neighbors, communities and to the other operators in this space. Businesses have an opportunity right now in this moment we’ll never have again: to educate people about how to responsibly grow and use the four plants they’re allowed in their homes after July 1. If we truly want this market to be successful and become established, operators must ensure they are operating within the limits of the current law. We must be knowledgeable about what is and is not illegal, and we have an obligation to encourage our customers to act responsibly as well. That means leading by example when following the law and encouraging customers to educate themselves on the laws and requirements.

All the newly eligible home growers also have a responsibility to follow the law and a duty to follow common-sense safety precautions. There are certain requirements all home growers must abide by to be compliant with the new law. If you’re going to grow, it’s your responsibility to know the new law and obey it. This includes not just following the laws for growing and cultivating, but also the laws about when and where to use. Public use is not currently allowed, and people should avoid activities while using that could potentially put others at risk – such as driving. Safety doesn’t end at the letter of the law, though. People should take extra caution and precautions when growing and maintaining cannabis plants in homes with small children or animals, both of which are prone to putting things in their mouths that don’t belong.

As we step forward into this amazing new market of opportunity Virginia has opened up for entrepreneurs and consumers, let’s make sure we’re prepared for the responsibility of the moment by staying educated, informed and demonstrating a consistent responsibility to one another.

Josiah Ickes is a co-founder of Happy Trees Agricultural Supply, a Scott’s Addition-based retailer specializing in hydroponics and indoor gardening. He is a 2013 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University. To learn more, visit happytreesag.com.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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