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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Marijuana and money equal magic combination at Vancouver conference

VANCOUVER - It wasn't the usual Vancouver gathering of pot enthusiasts — in fact not even a whiff of marijuana smoke could be detected at the GreenRush Financial Conference covering the budding business of ganja.

Featured speakers from the government to the banking industry were included in what was billed as Canada's first medical marijuana, industrial hemp and alternative medicine investment conference.

Brian O'Dea, an exhibitor with BC Chronic, a company that runs licensed medical grow operations, said the injection of money has made the biggest change to what could becoming a booming business.

"Look around the room, I don't see any hippies here. I see a couple of people with long hair, but I'm seeing mostly suits. What precipitates the change? Baksheesh, money," he said Wednesday, rubbing his fingers together.

"This is changing because money has entered the picture."

Among the dozens of exhibitors are Benton Capital Corp., Cannabis Investors, Pacific North West Capital and several other investment firms and pharmaceutical companies.

The speakers' list included representatives from Deloitte, Stockhouse and Canadian Securities Exchange.

O'Dea said many investors are looking to get in at the germination stage of what could be a flourishing investment, especially if the industry is eventually legalized.

"The marijuana industry has been undergoing a tremendous change in acceptance in the community and I think it's primarily driven because of the medical use of the product."

A new federal law allows only select commercial growers to produce medical marijuana, although part of that was put on hold while patients launch a constitutional challenge in federal court. In March, a Federal Court judge ruled that patients currently licensed to grow their own pot would be allowed to continue producing until a decision is made in the challenge.

GreenRush conference spokesman Jay Oness said conference organizers saw a void and decided to fill it by bringing dozens of exhibitors and investors together in three big ballrooms at in the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Growing public acceptance and the federal government's regulation of the medical marijuana industry has enticed investors, Oness said.

"This industry is being driven by legislation. (Marijuana has) always been there on the periphery, or in the undercurrent. But now with legislation giving support for companies to make huge investments, and be able to do it in a legal manner, it's driving a lot more interest."

A GreenRush conference will be held in Toronto next month and organizers are thinking about expanding to other areas in North America and possibly to Europe.

Both Colorado and Washington states legalized and regulated a marijuana market.

Oness said investors believe Canada may not be far behind.

"There's a huge tax base here that politicians would like to get their hands on."

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