DENVER MARCH 25: Pete Williams, Chief Operating Officer of Medicine Man, is in marijuana growing room. Denver, Colorado. March 25. 2014. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Medicine Man: Family’s bonds showing strains as business evolves (series)

Sitting at a conference table in his accountant’s office, Andy Williams has a number in mind: $11.5 million.

That, he says, is what it would take for him to sell his stake in the marijuana business he and his brother started from nothing.

Williams says he would be happy to walk away from Medicine Man if it meant lifetime financial security and a chance to pursue his next dream: starting a drum company.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in an occasional series of articles on Year One of recreational pot sales in Colorado told through the lens of one business, Medicine Man in northeast Denver.

Part I: Family’s business ambitions: Become Costco of marijuana

Part II: Family’s bonds showing strains as business evolves

Part III: Bags of cash, bank subterfuge part of pot shop’s “desperate” strategy

Part IV: Family behind ever-expanding Medicine Man weighs sellout

This mid-February meeting was a strategy session for the family behind Medicine Man, an opportunity to take stock and define goals six weeks after the first retail recreational marijuana sales in Colorado.

One chair was conspicuously empty. The other primary owner — Andy’s younger brother, Pete — was unable to attend.

He was with a film crew shooting footage for a proposed reality show starring Medicine Man, helping orchestrate scenes including one in which he walks in on a joint-rolling contest and feigns surprise.

There are other, more complicated reasons behind Pete’s absence.

The family bonds that hold Medicine Man together and make it successful can also be strained, almost to the point of snapping.

Medicine Man: Family's bonds showing strains as business evolves (series)
Pete Williams, chief operating officer of Medicine Man, in the dispensary’s grow room. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

The area that should be the living room and dining room in Pete Williams’ house has been cleared out for sword-fighting.

Not fencing, mind you. That is a sport that involves rules.

This is what Pete calls “practical sword-fighting … learning to deflect things coming at you and stabbing at the right moment.” Helmets, metal swords, heavy cloth jackets and gloves are at the ready.

The sword-fighting is a release and it’s fun, but it is also part of Pete’s belief system. He says he’s “a little bit of a prepper,” meaning he is taking steps to protect himself, family and friends in the event of society collapsing onto itself.

In the basement of his Westminster home, where he learned to grow marijuana, are 55-gallon water drums, 300 pounds of salt, body armor, crossbows, eight cases of toilet paper and freeze-dried food.

Pete Williams, 43, is the mad-scientist grower behind Medicine Man, a high-school dropout who likes to stage stoner salons by the living room fireplace with his posse, dreaming up the next big thing while smoking one Marlboro Light after another.

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He describes himself as someone who gets along with almost everyone, gives a lot of his money away and compulsively tells the truth. He says he earned the equivalent of a college degree listening to books on tape — from the Bible to “Moby Dick” — while delivering pizzas or driving railroad parts and beauty supplies all over the West.

“I always try to think best case and not dwell on what could happen,” Pete says. “I think that helps things go right more often than wrong.”

His free-spiritedness can clash with relatives who work at Medicine Man. That especially applies to his play-it-safe older sister, Sally Vander Veer. To a lesser degree it’s true with Andy, whose past as a corporate project manager slightly tempered his attraction to risk.

Case in point: the reality show. Pete’s most recent obsession.

With marijuana legalization putting Colorado in the spotlight, multiple reality show producers have approached Medicine Man.

“It’s invaluable advertising,” Pete says. “My whole goal was to make the Medicine Man name the top name, like a Pepsi or Coke of marijuana. The TV show is a good springboard for that.”

His siblings view it differently.

“We have worked so hard on building a reputation as a serious business,” Andy says. “I think TV shows are there to build you up and then tear you down. That’s what they thrive on.”

More: Reality TV puts Medicine Man in spotlight

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