Disruption vs. Destruction

It’s time for both the marijuana industry and regulators to understand the difference.


With Election Day approaching and many states, including California, eyeing the potential of legalized marijuana, you are no doubt hearing strong opinions on both sides of the effort. Recently, here in Denver, District Attorney Mitch Morrissey wrote a letter to the opposition of Prop 64 in California outlining his viewpoint around what the world with legal marijuana looks like from his perspective. On the industry side, activists like Mason Tyvert, who was instrumental in the legalization effort for our own amendment 64 in the 2012 election, fired back with a fiery and critical response to DA Morrissey. Today, I want to offer the opinion of a voice of reason to help both sides of the debate understand the difference between being disruptive and being destructive.


In 2012, when legalized marijuana was passed by voters in Colorado, there were high hopes indeed. For consumers who enjoyed utilizing marijuana for medical reasons, this new amendment meant they no longer needed to hold a medical card to seek relief. For the consumer who simply wanted to choose this substance over others for recreation, it meant they could finally emerge from the shadows and basements where they were consuming and the stigma of their consumption would no longer exist. Yet, while this industry launched into full force in January of 2014—a disruptive moment for the movement—the lack of real care for consumer safety, education and overall prudence was missed when it came to legalization. Now, over  two years later, the industry, still pushing hard for expansion, misses the point of consumer education as well as how to work with regulators to find collaborative solutions.

 Todd Mitchem sitting on a panel with regulators from Washington and Colorado

Todd Mitchem sitting on a panel with regulators from Washington and Colorado

In the meantime, as legal marijuana rolled out, regulators worked feverishly to “drink from a fire hose” and build regulations as fast as they could in order to tax the industry, protect workers, protect consumers, and protect the public, especially kids. Regulators resisted the more aggressive policies proposed by a hungry industry’s desire to expand and make money, while the industry fought back against any new rule, proposal or plan set forth by any regulator.  Regulators then began to enforce, in an even more stringent fashion, every law they could to hold the industry back from moving too fast for the consumers whom regulators are sworn to protect. At the same time, regulators were attempting to get their arms around the unintended consequences that began to unfold in a world with legal marijuana.

 Denver DA Mitch Morrissey

Denver DA Mitch Morrissey

Now, let’s fast forward to the letter from our DA in Denver and the reaction by the marijuana industry at large. My comments today are to say ENOUGH to both sides of the argument and say it is time to wake up. It’s time to wake up to an understanding of the dramatic difference between disruptive powers like the legal marijuana industry as well as the innovative regulations by quality lawmakers, and the destructive nonsense argumentative stance we find ourselves in today. I speak not for regulators or the industry today. I speak for citizens who deal with the choices of those two groups and their bickering. After all, who loses when these two opposing forces slam heads? Everyone!

We find ourselves today in what I call a destruction loop instead of a disruption mindset. When we do something truly disruptive, even with the best of intentions, but we lose sight of the most important aspects of our efforts, we head in the wrong direction fast.  Then, when we hit an opposing force, we begin to fight. This is caused by our ego, which suddenly needs to win arguments and to fight for what we believe is right, instead of staying in a positive disruptive mindset where we fight for getting it right. The marijuana industry is a perfect example of an industry that has become lost in arguments, by both lawmakers and the industry, instead of collaboration. Essentially we are becoming destructive.

The solution is not all that complicated. I will admit, as a guy who left the corporate world to work in this industry over three years ago, the solution needs to begin with the industry. I believe we should legalize marijuana on a national scale eventually, but I do not agree we should do so recklessly. We need to be careful, smart and listen to all sides of the debate. If the DA of Denver believes he has real concerns around marijuana-related teen use, emergency room visits, and other social issues, he has a duty to voice his opinion. While I could dispute some of the facts in his letter and work to fight his opinions, what good would that do for consumers, kids and people in states like California? NO GOOD AT ALL. Instead, I believe the solution lies in all of us putting down our destructive rhetoric and picking up a more collaborative message.  In the end, I believe and hope that marijuana will be legal everywhere in the US, so that people like my mother get the benefits of it medically and others benefit recreationally. As a father and citizen, however, I believe we all need to sit down and find smart solutions in order to educate all consumers and lawmakers.  We need, in general, a tamping down of the activist “fight” mentality of the industry so we can stop jeopardizing consumer safety in the name of “winning.” Even if we win our argument, people lose.

Todd Mitchem