“It’s the gold rush.” You’ll hear that a lot at cannabis industry events and in news stories about the marijuana business right now. “Marijuana Industry to Create 200,000 Jobs in 2015, Generate $21 Billion by 2020,” was the headline after CannaInsider released their predictions for the future of the business at the end of last year. Those numbers were reported and re-reported all over the place. Then they got beat. GreenWave Advisors projected $35 billion in revenue by 2020 if the entire nation legalizes weed.
Reality may or may not grow to match those headline-worthy optimistic numbers, but if you’re in the industry or you’re close to it, you’re seeing business inflate very quickly. There is gold and people are rushing. New extractors, growers, and dispensaries pop up every day. In Southern California alone, a couple promotional events are thrown every week: gram giveaways, Secret Seshes, grand openings, Abracadabs, Cannabis Cups. At each of these, companies hand out dabs, nugs, stickers, t-shirts, hats, and lighters by the dozen. Everyone wants their brand out there. Everyone wants to be a part of the community. Everyone wants to make money.
The Gold Rush of the 1800’s didn’t just profit miners and assayers. It gave rise to new communities, created saloons, hardware stores, churches, farms, brothels, police stations, and schools. Similarly, our gold rush isn’t just benefiting growers and extractors. There’s no infrastructure in place and a sea of positions to fill.
Someone’s got to run dispensaries, budtend the counters, blow glass so we can smoke the stuff, engineer enails, build vacuum ovens, manufacture butane, make the fertilizer and additives for growers, drive and dispatch for delivery services, print those stickers and T-shirts we like so much, design and maintain apps like WeedMaps and Leafly. There are weed-specialized lawyers, weed-specialized doctors, weed-specialized bankers. There are chefs, bakers, clothing designers, head shop proprietors, journalists, and photographers.
WeedHire reported an increase in cannabis jobs across the board for the fourth quarter of last year: dispensary jobs up 90%, medical jobs up 70%, administrative up 65%, and sales up 56%.
Good news, but this is all so new. Can we really tell where this is going by looking at these numbers? The industry has no precedent. If you’ve been in this business more than two years, you’re an old hand. If you’ve actually made money with a successful brand, then you’re an institution. An industry with no history is a hard one to predict a future for. So, even if I crunch numbers and read the tarot, I don’t know much more than the next guy about where we’ll be in a year or a decade. But I can do something I don’t see a lot of other people doing: I can take a good look at where we’re at right now. Spring, 2015. I’ve been all over this industry asking questions like: What is it? What makes it go round? What are its mysteries? What’s working and what’s broken?
Do you think that’s worthwhile? Maybe. Maybe not. What the fuck else are you going to do? Just keep reading and check it out.
The State of the Business as seen in Three Very Different Events
PARTY #1: SECRET SESH
If you haven’t been to a Secret Sesh, let me paint you a picture…
They’re held every Sunday in a surprise location. Think of the marketplace in Aladdin. A smoky bazaar – walls lined with tables, but instead of peddling fish and hookahs, you’ve got edibles, wax, some clothes, more wax, and still more wax. And instead of being held in the street, it’s packed into a mansion.
There are too many dabs to sample. Every room fits at least a couple tables and at every table is the face of a different extraction company or collective. They’re giving out samples, stickers, T-shirts, and they all have at least one burning enail hot and ready to gasify wax globs and let them loose in your brain. You’ll see all the SoCal dabbing community regulars there: Adam Ill, Greenwolf, 420 Nurses, Cannabis Community, Vader, Dab Life, Killer Koncentrates.
B-Real and Action Bronson have come through, but I didn’t see them at the sesh I got dabbed out at in Burbank last March. There are contests, giveaways, music, hot food, and good vibes with a bunch of friendly bearded wooks wearing hat pins and pendants. It’s a great time.
PARTY #2: WOMEN GROW
Ten miles south of Burbank, on the patio of the Rainbow Bar on the Sunset Strip, they hold monthly Women Grow events. The organization launched this year and it launched big: twenty-two chapters in cities including Humboldt, New York, and Boulder. It’s not what it sounds like. There aren’t that many growers, and there are a lot of dudes. Dress is business casual. I’d put the average age of an attendee at thirty-eight. There are no rigs or blunts. Cocktail servers bring olive martinis instead.
But guess what? At heart, it’s the same party they’re throwing at the Secret Sesh. It’s a networking and promotional shindig for entrepreneurs and enthusiasts in all branches of the cannabis business. They’re just trading business cards instead of grams (mostly).
There are growers, extractors, delivery service founders, bankers, stoners, and at least one capital investor. At the center of it all is the organization’s founder Cheryl Shuman, the weed entrepreneur and public personality recently dubbed by the New York Times as the “Cannabis Queen of Beverly Hills.” Your mom has probably seen her on The View or Fox News or ET’S The Insider.
So, this is a slightly different social stratosphere from the Secret Sesh. But they have no real edge on the wooks at the Burbank mansion. The cannabis industry is too young to seem to care about where you’re from or how educated you are or your gender or race. It’s a blank slate without the prejudices of more institutionalized businesses. Anyone with the drive and smarts can get it, at least right now, while the getting’s still good.
At Cannabis Cup SoCal 2015, Dr. K of Paris Kush told us, “What’s really cool about this event is that it’s not legal yet, so people still have a lot of energy…” That brings a question to mind. If this is one big party (or two big parties), then when will it end? Every party has to. Do the lights come up and the music get turned off when we go full legalized and regulated? When you can buy shatter grams on sale at Walmart?
And where are the big dogs like Walmart anyhow? $21 billion, people are saying, by 2020. That’s a big enough number to get your Monsanto and R.J. Reynolds CEOs’ ears to perk up. So, where are they at? Well, that brings us to our next party…
PARTY #3: THE PORTOLA CLUB
Those big dogs are already sniffing around the fence. They’ve probably already dug under it and just hiding well in the bushes. There are theories, heavily researched but sketchily argued, that Monsanto helped make weed legal in Uruguay so it could use it as a test site for the sale of genetically modified marijuana. Monsanto even took the time to dispel the rumor on their “Myths about Monsanto” page, saying, “Monsanto has not and is not working on GMO marijuana. This allegation is an Internet rumor and lie.”
Similar rumors are whispered about big tobacco – and there are documents recording Phillip Morris’s attempt to obtain marijuana from the Justice Department’s narcotics bureau for their own testing decades ago. But no tobacco companies admit that they’re looking into the business right now, and there is no proof to say otherwise.
But, whether these internet rumors are true or not, it’s not hard to see why they exist – when cannabis gets more legal, it’s nearly impossible to believe that major corporations won’t try to get a piece of the pie. Forbes just hired a full-time weed business correspondent, which means their readers are interested..
The Portola Club isn’t a real club, and I probably wouldn’t be allowed in if it was. In Inherent Vice, it’s the club that the evil lawyer who represents an evil conglomerate of Republicans, dentists, heroin dealers, and the super rich belongs to. It’s the kind of place where the one percent chomps on cigars and sits on leather couches with brass buttons. It’s the kind of place where right now the people who pay for presidential elections are probably talking about how and when to get into the marijuana business.
And what will that mean for us – everyone who’s gotten in at the ground floor – when rich fat dudes climb on the elevator at the thirty-ninth floor and overcrowd the car? “I try not to think about Monsanto,” a grower tells me at the Women Grow event. She’s just trying to do what she loves and make a buck at it. True that.. This isn’t an easy business. Even if you’re one hundred percent legal right now, you still have to worry about the DEA and local police. Going legal and facing big business can’t be that much harder. Here’s hoping it stays fun and lucrative. See you at the next party.