Derek Peterson is the CEO of Terra Tech Corp., a cannabis-focused agriculture company. His life was changed after an accident inspired him to leave his position in the world of finance to pursue a career as a cannabis entrepreneur.
You are a medical marijuana patient yourself. How has this affected your life?
I’ve used cannabis for recreational purposes for years, however, I broke my neck eight years ago and couldn’t function using traditional painkillers like OxyContin and the like. Instead, I tried using cannabis to help with the pain I was suffering through my recovery. It had a profound effect on me. It solved my pain problem and I didn’t need to be dependent on traditional addictive narcotics. That is when I really developed a true understanding of the therapeutic value of cannabis.
Did your medical use influence your decision to leave Wall Street and invest in the cannabis industry?
Absolutely, I’m someone that truly needs to understand and believe in the product I put my name behind. The accident and my associated reliance on it for medical purposes gave me that confidence. What I do know is that access needs to be without too many legislative hurdles and without cumbersome regulation. People who suffer chronic pain, have late stage cancer etc, have a more difficult time in life than the average person. If there are too many hurdles for patients to get access, they may not spend the energy to even try cannabis as an alternative or even worse force them to seek it out in the black market putting themselves at risk.
It has been years since you left Wall Street. Some people must have thought you were crazy to leave the security of your position to pursue such a controversial career. Do you feel like the change has been positive for you in the long run?
I left 6 years ago. I wasn’t happy with what I was doing on Wall Street. I was making a great living, but didn’t enjoy working in the space. Cannabis afforded me an opportunity to do something I believe in; to help people in need and to make a living at the same time. It has been more difficult than anything I have imagined. Working for a large firm is like working in an incubator. Running a small business with all the regulatory hurdles and responsibilities is the most difficult challenge I have ever faced. Entrepreneurs are a special breed of people, especially ones in our industry considering the layers of extra headwinds that exist.
Your application for life insurance with Mutual of Omaha was recently rejected due to your position as CEO of Terra Tech Corp. Would you consider this a form of discrimination?
I certainly don’t use that term loosely, but yes. We have created close to 150 jobs, spent millions of dollars in multiple locations around the country and have paid a fortune in taxes. We have made a positive impact on people’s lives and to be denied basic financial services feels discriminatory, and it is something we should not have to deal with as an industry. The unfair tax burdens, lack of traditional banking, and now benefits, is putting an unfair burden on us as operators, which has a direct effect on the lives of the people we employ and the lives of the patients we serve.
They did not give me any additional clarity or feedback about the denial. Reading between the lines, it seems like an internal policy choice they were unwilling to quantify.
Do you plan on taking action against the discrimination of members of the marijuana industry?
First thing I am applying at several other providers to see if the issue is systemic in nature or just the stance of a handful of providers. If it is systemic, I will likely escalate the fight accordingly. Inequities in life aren’t settled without fighting for them and we are willing to fight for ourselves and the industry if needed.
Have you experienced discrimination in other aspects of your life due to your position in the medical industry or due to your use of medical marijuana?
Fortunately, no for the most part. I have had my corporate banking and personal banking shut down several times which makes everything that much more challenging, but from a public perception standpoint, it has been almost entirely positive. Voters want regulation, they want structure. The drug war has failed and the resources being spent are in the billions. Funds that could be used for treatment and for other much needed public services. And now that we see so many positive data points coming from both adult use and medical states it is becoming hard to argue the economic impact as well as the social benefit associated with regulation.
Should the United States just legalize and regulate cannabis at a federal level instead of having such fragmented laws? If so, do you believe it should be recreational for both medical and recreational adult use?
I believe that the federal government should legalize for both adult use as well as medicinal, even if that means leaving it up to each state to develop their own set of rules and regulations. We all know cannabis consumption isn’t going to be eradicated. The failed drug war needs to stop. Taxation and regulation will assure that people have access to safe products that are lab tested and that can be purchased in a safe manner from a reputable retailer. In addition, the economic benefit is significant and much needed. Colorado, Washington and Oregon are generating over $100 million a month in adult use sales. If California and Nevada are successful, that number is going to skyrocket as well as the associated job creation and tax benefit to the state and local communities. In addition, we see Politicians in the City of Toronto seem to believe that by licensing and regulating the existing businesses they are giving in to the black market. a picture that legalization will be the downfall of our youth and these data points are showing the opposite. Tourism is increasing, jobs are being created, Opiate abuse, according to a study for UCI and Rand, is dropping in states that have regulated cannabis, teen use is dropping as well. It is becoming impossible to argue some form of regulation with a straight face.
What do you believe the government would need to do in order to successfully undermine and limit the Black Market?
The only way to eradicate the black market is by passing responsible legislation that allows for a broad medical use covering many ailments as well as easy access. If the barriers to entry are too significant, then people will revert to the black market. For regulation to be successful, lawmakers need to balance the need for tight controls with the reality of people’s propensity to skirt the rules. Legislators need to ask if their regulation allows an elderly person who is confined to a wheelchair and has difficulty leaving the house, if they can get their card and medicine quickly and easily. If the answer is yes, then they are on the right track. In essence, legislation needs to be developed taking into consideration the needs of patients who are most ill, if it works for them it will likely work well for most.
(Photo credit: ocregister.com/Ed Crisostomo)