Unless you have been living in an underground bunker for the last five years, you must have caught a whiff of the legal marijuana industry booming in the 29 US states where consumption has been decriminalized.
Marijuana retail sales across the US accounted to $6.5 billion in 2016, and are predicted to grow to $30 billion by 2021. As more and more states have loosened legislation — or gone full whack and decriminalized for personal use like in Colorado, Washington, and Vermont — the industry surrounding the sale of the plant has blossomed from just growers, cutters, and dispensaries, to a whole weird and wonderful world of weed related companies.
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While one in five Americans now lives in a state where it’s legal to grow and smoke marijuana without a doctor’s letter, this leaves four fifths of US citizens looking on from a distance, watching opportunities billow up in the air, without being able to join the fun.
So if you don’t live in a state with legalized recreational or medical marijuana laws, how can you still benefit from other states’ marijuana industry boom?
Think outside the box
As the legal marijuana industry has evolved, so have the different types of companies that are eying up their piece of the pie. From weed PR companies, 3D printers for bongs, to an incredible range of hemp based products, for smart entrepreneurs looking to get their share of the green stuff (money) there are many ways to tie yourself and your expertise to the industry.
In a recent Ganjapreneur podcast, David Muret of Viridian Staffing argues that people will be surprised to find out just how many different skill sets are relevant to the cannabis industry.
While many people will only focus on the most obvious — products linked to growing and consuming the plant — Muret argues that there are a huge range of different services linked to supporting the day to day businesses involved in the industry.
“These [marijuana] companies need the same type of support as any other company does, be it sales, marketing, social media … almost anyone can find a home in this industry if they’re willing to put in the time and the effort,” says Muret.
So while you may not be ready to hang up your suit, move to Colorado and become a weed farmer just yet, why not work out whether your existing skills could help different businesses working within the booming weed company remotely.
Focus on your own business model, and service or product, and then try to assess the demand in states where use has been decriminalized. If you see that there is a lot of competition from companies based in legalized states, then maybe it’s better to look for other options. However, if you see a space which you could fill, then assess whether it’s feasible to do this role remotely, or whether you would need to register an entity within the same state.
Even if your profession is not linked directly to the marijuana industry, there are plenty of satellite industries on which you could capitalize. For example, if you work organizing events and conferences, in catering, lighting, or interior design, cannabis conferences are booming both in legalized states and outside.
Even in Texas, where no form of marijuana is legalised and there are still harsh penalties for personal use, the state is home to the Southwest Cannabis Conference and Expo in Fort Worth which brings together experts, and interested parties from all over the country.
Breaking into the marijuana industry from afar means thinking outside of the box.
Attend an industry event, and mingle with real experts
If you live in Fort Worth then you are in luck, but if not, then research the biggest marijuana industry events in a state near you and apply for a ticket. What you pay in flights, attendance, and accommodation; you will get back in expert industry knowledge and potential new contacts and partners.
Attending a conference for marijuana businesses and products is the best way to work out whether your business idea is a good fit or not. If you are confident and have already made a business plan, why not pay for a stall, and gauge interest from other attendees. Or if you aren’t quite at that stage yet, take the time to check out what different businesses are showcasing there, and try to sniff out any competition.
Major events include the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo in Washington DC, and the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) Cannabis Business Summit & Expo, but there are hundreds of other smaller scale events dotted around the country. Be sure to focus on events that are focused on business and the industry itself, rather than more consumer based events which are designed to showcase new plant strains, smoking tech, and merchandise to weed users.
The great thing about industry events, is that they tend to bring together not only businesses and experts in the field, but also press and investors too. It’s always good to get outside opinions of ideas, as if you only ask friends and colleagues, you risk getting stuck in an ‘echo chamber’.
Why not sidle up to an investor at a networking event and run your idea past him or her? Investors are not known for not sugarcoating anything, so you are likely to get an honest appraisal. That said, don’t spend all of your time frantically pitching. Try to attend as many events, speakers, networking events, and workshops as possible which can offer you real takeaways for setting up your own business.
Try to get an idea of how many of the companies in attendance are homegrown, and how many operate from out of state. If you find companies showcasing who are based in a state which still has not joined the party, then why not pick their brains about the logistics of setting up a business from afar.
To really make the most of conferences, you need to come prepared. Business cards are a thing of the past these days, with most attendees preferring to connect on the spot via social media. So make sure to have a LinkedIn account, or social media channel with a professional looking photo that you can share.
Make sure you’re sticking to the rules
This is extremely important! According to the the Federal Controlled Substances Act, anyone who aids, abets, or conspires to commit a crime is just as guilty as the principals of that crime. As such, when considering developing a business linked to the cannabis industry, from a state where the trade is still illegal, it is important to make sure you are within the boundaries of the law, or you could find yourself receiving serious fines, or worse.
The entire marijuana industry exists in an confusing legal grey zone, due to the fact that federal laws still dictate that the plants cultivation, sale and consumption are still illegal. The situation for third party companies that profit from the trade, is even more complicated.
There are a number of resources online that discuss the topic of the legality of working with marijuana companies as a third party service provider. However, every state is different, and when you are walking the line of committing a felony, it is best not to take risks. I would advise speaking to a legal professional from within your own state to get a professional opinion on the risks doing business with the cannabis industry could have on your business.
With revenue for for legal marijuana industry hitting new peaks every year — and more and more states loosening restrictions — the likelihood is that even more conservative states will soon be pressured into making marijuana laws more lax. However, for the time being people living in states which have not joined the party, will have to work out ways to get involved, legally from afar.
This will involve extensive market research, attending conferences, and learning the ins and outs of the industry, but if you can find a way to make it work — the profits will definitely be worth the hard work.