The Gold Rush Goes Green: Legalizing Marijuana

legalize marijuana

For most of us, the word “marijuana” conjures images of oblivious stoner characters like Kenny and Thurgood from Half Baked, Harold and Kumar, or the more determined college students like Silas and Jamal from How High. But with 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia recently passing legislation to make marijuana use available to some, many experts now say that the connotation associated with it is changing rapidly. Why?

It is simple: there is a lot of money to be made from its legalization. And just like the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, people are creating more opportunities to cash in on green. Here we will take a look at who and where.

The Fully-Baked Educator

As children, we were taught to “say no to drugs.” According to Advertising Age, the old commercials like “this is your brain on drugs” spiked to over $1 million in daily advertising spots during the 1980s. Although the message still rings true, those anti-drug PSAs have all but disappeared. And with the recent legalization of marijuana, the classroom lessons about drugs have also changed.

“I had so many students asking me about the marijuana industry,” Shad Ewart, a business professor at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland, told USA TODAY. “These were primarily 18- to 20-year-olds interested in business, and there was an intersection.”

Last year, when Maryland decriminalized the possession of less than 10 grams of pot and legalized medical marijuana, Ewart saw it as an opportunity. So, he developed a new course: Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Emerging Markets: Marijuana Legalization, where he teaches students how to launch a career from selling the drug, which is poised to skyrocket. In Maryland, the cultivator growing and dispensary licenses will amount to $330,000 over two years, says USA TODAY.

“The people who made the money in the Gold Rush weren’t the guys who found the nuggets,” Ewart added. “They were the people who sold the picks and shovels.”

Ewart covers topics such as the “History of Marijuana Business in the United States” and the “Economic Impact” in his class of 30 students. And those who registered for his first class this semester may well be on their way to becoming very successful entrepreneurs.

The Entrepreneur’s Green Castle

The persona of the seedy back-alley drug dealer distributing bags of marijuana also may be a thing of the past because of the recent legalization. It was just a few weeks ago when Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) both introduced legislation that has the potential to put an end to the federal laws that still ban the drug.

“While President Obama and the Justice Department have allowed the will of voters in states like Colorado and 22 other jurisdictions to move forward, small business owners, medical marijuana patients, and others who follow state laws still live with the fear that a new administration – or this one – could reverse course and turn them into criminals," Polis told The Huffington Post.

And most marijuana advocates expect the bills to pass citing recent studies from the Pew Research Center that found over 50 percent of Americans think the use of marijuana should be legal. More importantly, over 7 million Americans are regular users, says a 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That is why today’s marijuana dealers are moving from the shadows to the mainstream and making a lot of money by doing so.

James Howler, a Colorado entrepreneur who sells medical marijuana sweets, is now being courted by Wall Street. Why? The first month that recreational use became legal in Colorado, it generated almost $2 million in tax revenue, and it is expected to earn over $46 billion nationwide by 2018, up from over $1 billion in 2013, according to the Medical Marijuana Business Daily. And that is why the emerging industry is attracting big money investors.

“If leaders of these companies are not looking at the cannabis space, then they are not doing their jobs," Chris Walsh, an editor from the Denver-based Marijuana Business Daily, told USA TODAY. "Billions of dollars are here, and no seasoned business executive is going to overlook a billion-dollar industry that they might be positioned to tap.”

With enormous foresight and drive, most entrepreneurs like Howler see it as a simple matter of supply and demand. But for others, it is a matter of survival.

Really HIGH Healthcare

For years, marijuana has represented a chance for a better life. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) that is found in the plant can increase appetites, reduce nausea, decrease pain, inflammation, and spasticity, and limit epileptic seizures for people who suffer with chronic diseases.

In California, where the Gold Rush started, the use of medical marijuana has been legal since 1996 with over 20 million Americans qualified to purchase the drug, says the San Francisco Sentinel. Currently, there are over 1,000 growers and dispensaries, according to the Sentinel, across the country that provide medical marijuana to dispensaries like the Northeast Patients Group in Berkeley, California. And prescribing some relief for chronically ill patients are a dedicated group of medical professionals like Becky DeKeuster, who is the executive director at the Northeast Patients Group.

“On my first day there, I saw a patient in a wheelchair having (multiple sclerosis) seizures. And, literally, with two puffs off a joint, he stopped tremoring, and it was like, ‘wow, this is amazing,’” DeKeuster told the Sentinel. “I’m grateful to be in this industry and I consider it a blessing to be able to do the work I do.”

The work that DeKuester does helps patients with serious illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, and Huntington’s disease. However, many chronic suffers who could potentially benefit from the drug are still not eligible to receive it under the current laws in many states like New York, a medical marijuana advocate, Janet Weinberg writes for the Huffington Post.

“The bill is filled with compromises,” she said. “This means that many, many concessions were made so that the law would pass.”

For example, medical doctors in New York will be the only professionals authorized to prescribe the drug with doctors of osteopathy, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, unable to do so, Weinberg added. But the fact of the matter is that there are enormous benefits associated with the use of medical marijuana. And as public opinion about it continues to change and the industry continues to grow, the Green Rush will continue to attract many more enterprising Americans who will essentially transform the plant’s image.

Advertising Age
National Institute of Drug Abuse
The Huffington Post
Pew Research Center