David Abernathy knows about image problems—he dropped out of high school and college, then burned out as an investment banker before starting his own consulting practice. Perhaps that’s why he’s a perfect fit for his new job: As a director of Compassionate Green Financial Services, the only company of its kind in the country, Abernathy provides financial and legal services to medical marijuana dispensaries and growhouses, helping them turn legit. The nattily dressed 26-year-old runs CGF Ser vices out of his live-work loft in the refurbished Cotton Mill Studios, in Oakland’s Jingletown neighborhood, and the firm is already operating in the black. Abernathy won’t say how much money he’s made, nor will he identify his clients or investors—but he was happy to tell us about the concerns faced by his potentially gigantic clientele.
What kinds of help does CGF Services offer? We want to make sure people in the medi cal cannabis industry are being good citizens and good neighbors, so we tell them everything they need to know to turn illegal grows into legal grows under California law and local and state ordinances.
Why would a grower want to pay taxes if he’s been running a successful under-the-table business? Many growers make a lot of cash, but they can’t use it without laundering it. If they go legit now, they can pay taxes, put money into a bank account, estab lish credit, buy a house—basically deal with money the way the rest of us do, instead of burying it in the backyard. But for some people, it’s a civil-liberties decision. They know they’re not doing anything wrong yet still risk going to jail, and they feel that’s just not right.
Why did you start up before legalization? I knew that ultimately things were moving toward legal ization, and that being in place early on would be a great help to us.
How will your business change if Prop 19 passes? If recreational marijuana becomes legal, it will open up a huge number of doors. Pot could be sold at art galleries, corner stores, and movie theaters—and I’m sure an entire regulatory framework will arise around that that will differ from the medical cannabis laws. We’ll ramp up our operation in pretty short order.
You said you had no experience in the medical cannabis industry prior to taking this job. Did you have any in the field of recreational cannabis? I’ve been smoking since I was 18. But I’m not very functional when I’m medicated, so I use it when I’m done being productive to help wind down.
How are you planning to vote on Prop 19? I’m planning to vote yes.