A Long Time Coming: A Reflection On The Evolution Of Cannabis Legality
If you asked me 15 years ago, “Matt, do you ever see the cannabis space going legal, or yourself working in it?” I would have responded with, “NO, not in my wildest dreams…” Today, I am a co-founder of Smoke Screen Farms and Long Cannabis Co. Smoke Screen Farms is focused on the cultivation side of the business and is currently growing 1,000 acres of hemp in Virginia. Long Cannabis Co. is America’s newest apothecary, focused on its unique line of wellness products.
Looking back 15 years ago, cannabis plants remained illegal and were not widely recognized as providing any added value. Only California and a few other states were in the beginning stages of implementing medical cannabis laws. The rest of the country had not yet opened up to the benefits of cannabis, and hemp remained federally illegal.
Like many other kids growing up, I had my encounters with cannabis and quickly realized that it was not as terrible as people made it out to be. Being raised in Virginia, the cannabis stigma was very real. Not only was cannabis condemned, but you risked going to jail for several years for possessing it; and those jail sentences often spelled out the end of your life! So, like most supportive parents, my mother and father encouraged me to find happiness and success in something…but the cannabis business was not an option. Cannabis was, in fact, illegal; and my father had personally experienced the ebb and flow of highs and lows in the cannabis business.
Around this time in 2006, my father was sitting in a jail cell after being arrested for moving marijuana across state lines. Naturally my father said, “don’t follow in my footsteps or this is where it will get you, son.” He was right, as most parents usually are. Recognized as a cannabis smuggler, he knew the intricacies of the business and how severe the consequences could be. He had already served close to a decade in prison, from the late 90s into the 2000s, for smuggling millions of pounds of exotic cannabis into the United States. He was a cowboy—a cannabis cowboy, back in jail for the fourth time. Some of his life stories are documented in the book, Smoke Screen by Robert Sabbag. This book documents my father, Allen Long, in the years leading up to and during his smuggling and brokering of cannabis. He told me many times that it was what he loved to do. And in the years to come, it was a love that would be passed on to the next generation.
After growing up in the mountains of Charlottesville, Virginia, I moved to New York City, spending four years on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I attended Hunter College on 68th and Lexington, and it was quite the experience! For those who have lived in Manhattan, you know what I mean. The city had a lot to offer, but the winters in the North East are brutal. On one of those cold days, an older friend of mine called and offered me a job in Santa Monica, CA, working for an investment company that he and a friend were launching. I initially turned down the job on the spot; not interested because I had my life in NYC at the time. Then during my cold walk home, I started to think about the beaches in Southern California and how much nicer that sounded. As soon as I got home, I called my friend and before he could say a word, I told him that I was moving to California next week, and I did. California is where I really started to gain appreciation for the sweet sinsemilla.
After working as a junior guy on a few deals in LA, I started working for a company called SWS Group that focused on infrastructure underwriting and municipal bond trading. The guys that worked for the firm all referred to themselves as “M.L. Stern guys”; M.L. Stern being a regional brokerage firm that was started out of Beverly Hills by a guy named Mickey Stern. I had seen an article on the wall calling M.L. Stern the muni bond kings of California in the 80s or 90s. And at this time, M.L. Stern had just been acquired by SWS Group out of Texas. I worked for SWS for almost 5 years and gained so many great mentors. Many thanks to those guys! Beginning in 2015, with a little help, I started my own investment firm and haven’t looked back. As a new small company, we had to figure out what set us apart from the others. At the end of the day, I realized it was in front of me the whole time.
Now it’s Fall 2020 and Virginia has recently decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use. Virginia is one of almost 30 plus states that have now recognized the Cannabis Industry. Thanks Virginia! Looks like we are coming full circle now. The green evolution.