Imagine a large conference room in a nameless chain hotel stranded just off the freeway, 20 miles outside of a major city. The conference room is decked out in bland tables and matching chairs arrayed around a brightly lit stage flanked on either side by large projector screens. At the microphone, the MC is playing to the crowd.
It could be any number of business conferences that take place every day in Anytown, USA, with its good-enough buffet lunch and structured networking events. There are keynotes addresses, breakout panels, and a room of table-stand displays of the various sponsors and exhibitors.
It had all the trappings of an insurance sales conference, except at this event, the conference participants were talking about weed. Marijuana. Trees.
Or cannabis, as industry mavens like to call it. This conference brought together investors and entrepreneurs in the new, but burgeoning, industry of legal cannabis.
Arcview Group CEO Troy Dayton kept things moving throughout the day.
With the passage of Colorado’s Amendment 64 and Washington state’s Initiative 502 last year, marijuana is now fully legal in those two states for adults to use recreationally (it's legal in another 17 states for medical use).
It also means that it’s now legal for businesses to sell marijuana, marijuana-derived products like hash and kief, and marijuana paraphernalia. Things like bongs, pipes, and vaporizers have always walked a fine line between legality and illegality (see Tommy Chong and Operation Pipe Dreams), but now with full legalization, those companies are free to operate without fear of being broken up and jailed. We now live in a world where you can walk into a store and buy your favorite brand of marijuana in pre-rolled joints.
The conference that I attended just outside of Boston last week was put on by the Arcview Group, a company based in California that specializes in connecting open-minded investors with cannabis entrepreneurs. The Arcview Group was started by my good friend Troy Dayton, a former drug reform activist who parlayed his business skills and entrepreneurial drive into a thriving network of angel investors who have invested millions of dollars in various cannabis-themed businesses.
Businesses like the Funk Sac, which makes child-resistant packaging that is compliant with Colorado state retail code, and who raised $350,000 with Arcview investors.
Or MassRoots, a social network for medical marijuana patients who raised $150,000. Or Rodawg, a company smashing stylish design together with marijuana packaging and consumption who raised more than half a million dollars.
One of the main events at every Arcview meeting is when entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to the Arcview investors (each an accredited investor, meaning they have a minimum net-worth of 1 million dollars or make more than $200,000 per year). I heard pitches for a social media platform for cannabis retailers, a company selling different standardized blends of cannabis tinctures, and even a marijuana business park in an economically depressed area of Washington state.
The PBS crew at work.
To be honest, I’m still a little blown away by my glimpse of a future where cannabis is as legal as beer. There was a palpable energy in the air, a buzzing knowledge that this industry is about to get really interesting and a whole lot bigger. The Arcview Group’s State of Legal Marijuana Markets report projects that the legal market could grow to $10.2 billion in five years. That’s a lot of hash and vape pens and that’s just in the 13 states projected to join Colorado and Washington in legalizing recreational use in the next five years.
With recent polls showing that more than 75 percent of Americans are resigned to the fact that the federal prohibition on marijuana will be lifted, even if they personally think it should be kept illegal, it’s no longer a matter of if pot will be legal, but when. As more stories come out about the millions of dollars in tax revenue being raked into Colorado and Washington state coffers and an equally large amount saved by not locking up pot smokers and dealers, other states will abandoned prohibition and open their doors to the investors and entrepreneurs who I met in Boston last week.
And as I saw at the Arcview meeting, the investors and entrepreneurs are putting their money where their mouths are — Troy quickly raised $26,000 in donations from the room to support a full legalization ballot initiative in Massachusetts run by the Marijuana Policy Project. Add that to the $400,000 that Troy has previously raised from Arcview investors over the last few years for similar activist efforts. This is a great example of a positive feedback loop. As more people get rich from legal cannabis, more money will flow into tearing down marijuana prohibition, which will open up the market for more people to get rich. Rinse and repeat.
PBS NewsHour's Paul Solman was there documenting the story of legal cannabis.
The slow rollout of legalization is good for the industry. Right now, legal cannabis is small enough to allow for just about anyone to step in with a good executed idea and come out with millions, and even billions, of legitimately generated wealth just a few years down the road. Many stories are yet to be told about the marijuana barons and moguls who will be minted in the coming green gold rush.
I will be following the development of the legal cannabis market in the coming months and years and tracking its progress here on MNN. These are exciting times to live in!
Want to read more about marijuana? Check out these stories here on MNN: