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Boston Globe: California marijuana services firm sets up shop in Boston, joins Chamber of Commerce

September 18, 2017

Weedmaps, one of the country’s larger and more established marijuana firms, is going all-in on Massachusetts and its new recreational pot market.

The California company, which sells software to licensed cannabis operators and publishes a popular online directory of dispensaries for consumers, is finalizing a lease for a downtown Boston office to accommodate its sales and lobbying team.

Its executives want to be right in close to the rollout of new rules for the nascent industry in Massachusetts and have the firm well-established locally by the time dispensaries open up next summer.

Weedmaps also just became the first marijuana-related company to join the venerable Boston Chamber of Commerce.

At first blush, the two organizations hardly seem like a natural fit. The chamber opposed Question 4, the ballot initiative that legalized marijuana, while Weedmaps supported the measure and has since lobbied the state to put fewer restrictions on the dispensaries and other licensed pot operations it hopes will buy its ads and services.

But Jim Rooney, the chamber’s president and chief executive, said that’s all in the past.

“The debate is over,” he said. “The vote making marijuana legal has taken place. And once something’s legal, it’s just a business. It’s part of our ecosystem, and it’s not for us to judge.”

The move isn’t a huge surprise. The chamber’s opposition to Question 4 consisted of little more than a statement, and Rooney even before the referendum said he would welcome cannabis companies to his group if it passed.

In fact, Rooney said, some business members of the chamber stand to make money working with cannabis companies, which are highly regulated and often require intensive legal, lobbying, financial, and real estate help — not to mention security, lighting, plumbing, transportation, software, and insurance, among numerous other goods and services.

 “When a new industry is taking shape, there are all sorts of business opportunities embedded in that, in terms of support and suppliers,” Rooney said.

 Weedmaps doesn’t deal directly in marijuana. It’s positioned more as a technology company, competing for talent with the likes of Google and Facebook. That might smooth the company’s integration into the chamber, which has been working to update its reputation as a stuffy, overly restrained group.

“We’re trying to show what the responsible actors in the industry look like,” Weedmaps president Chris Beals said, “and to lower any misperception or stigma associated with marijuana.”

Joining the chamber, he added, “is part of being a civically-minded organization.”

The company’s top lobbying priorities, Beals said, are ensuring there are enough pot stores in convenient locations for customers and that lab-testing standards are reasonable.

Its initial presence in Boston will be modest: about 10 people. Eventually, Weedmaps may recruit some of the Boston area’s copious programming and analytical talent to help advance an ambitious big-data project that seeks to match different cannabis strains with various subjective effects felt by users.

While many advocates and consumers fear the state will bungle its rollout of regulated marijuana firms, Beals said Weedmaps sees Massachusetts as a leader.

“It can’t be overstated how excited we are about the prospect that Massachusetts is on the right path to have the best policy on cannabis in the country,” he said. “We’ve actually had senior, senior officials in neighboring states ask us if they should copy Massachusetts.

“We said, ‘Absolutely.’ ”

Read the original article on BostonGlobe.com