“During the gold rush its a good time to be in the pick and shovel business.” — Mark Twain
In the 1800’s when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter’s Mill in California, it set off a nearly 20 year “Gold Rush” in California. Surprisingly, the first reported millionaire from that discovery was not one of the miners, yet one of the first publicists of the movement — Samuel Brennan.
The Gold Rush brought nearly 300,000 people to California by land and sea. Brennan and a local merchant set up shop near the mill and sold picks and shovels to those looking to hit pay dirt — Gold baby!
THE GREEN RUSH.
Some 100 plus years later the latest crop of prospectors are getting their picks and shovels ready for their stake in the emerging global cannabis industry. As many states begin decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana for varying degrees of adult medicinal and recreational use, there has been a boom in legal cannabis business. Arcview, a hub for legal cannabis data, estimates in the “The State of Legal Marijuana Markets” report that legal cannabis sales will grow 32 percent in 2015 to $3.5 billion and triple again by 2019.
States like Colorado will be the barometer for what’s to come in the future. One of the fastest growing areas for investment is the ancillary business segment; this includes businesses that do not handle the marijuana products, but provide services for those who do: Picks and shovels.
CELEBRITIES ARE CASHING IN.
At the grassroots level (yay pun!), cannabis has always been a part of pop culture — and is seemingly now becoming more socially acceptable. Technology advancements have made canna-consumerism more fashionable, while helping chip away at the stigma of cannabis culture. Celebs have noticed this trend, and are now cashing in. Snoop Dogg has created a $25 million dollar cannabis investment fund, and most recently invested in Eaze, a medicinal marijuana delivery service based in California. Tommy Chong has Smoke Swipe, a line of dry clothing wipes meant to eliminate the odor of marijuana or tobacco smoke from smokers’ clothes. Some celebrities have even been able to cash in on cannabis posthumously. The executors of the Marley Estate have partnered with cannabis focused VC firm Privateer Holdings to create Marley Natural, the world’s first global cannabis brand. Although, reggae legend Bob Marley has been deceased for over 30 years, his fondness for “the herb” and position as a household name is a promising partnership. Bethenny Frankel is rumored to be working on a boutique strain of marijuana that doesn’t give its users the “munchies,” and Melissa Etheridge, a long time medicinal advocate, has an infused wine in the works.
GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK.
Aside from the diverse celebrities who are using their social capital to win in the green economy, the legal marijuana industry is predominantly white and male. As a marketer/researcher in this space I’ve personally attended meet-ups for entrepreneurs, growers and advocacy groups where they are pleasantly surprised to see a Black person — and doubly so that I am a woman. Insiders within the cannabis industry widely acknowledge this. Which brings me to the following question: what are the opportunities for Black and Latino entrepreneurs in this space? At minimum, the cannabis industry should be compared to many existing industries in terms of employment needs. With respect to transferrable skills, a potential employee would need to be adaptable to what is currently a ‘wild west’ environment. This green economy is like a startup, regulations will be evolving for the next 5–10 years at least.
As with any agricultural industry, there is a vast array of jobs available: human resource and marketing professionals, sales, retail and customer service personnel, real estate professionals, drivers, and even more important for some — security professionals. That is just the tip of the iceberg. But taking a look at this from the perspective of a grassroots urban (neé: Black or Latino) entrepreneur, they could face many challenges entering into this space due to the history of marijuana prohibition on at a legislative level. Currently, Black and Latino youth have been systematically targeted, arrested and incarcerated due to the criminalization of marijuana, and now the landscape is largely White men who stand to profit from legal cannabis. Defy Ventures, a social organization which provides entrepreneurship, employment, and character training to people with criminal histories, is working to assist those who want to start or work in legitimate cannabis businesses — and to remove some of the associated stigma. Yet it currently stands that “White men get rich from legal pot, Black men stay in prison.” If Colorado, and potentially DC, will be the models for the legal cannabis industry going forward — we should all pay close attention.
WHO SHAPES THE STORY?
Historically the expression of cannabis culture has been associated with stoners, pot- or weed-heads, and other terms that place a stigma on those recreational users. A signifier in this space is the pervasive smell of the herb itself, whereas other consumers of their vice of choice can seemingly do so discretely. While the industry works towards advocacy and legalization across the states, marketers will play a major role in expanding the various expressions of cannabis culture. That is one portion of the commentary on the green economy that I feel is missing, especially within the Black and Latino entrepreneur opportunity. These organizations should, and could, serve as multicultural market leaders. The demographics that their advertisers serve have been negatively impacted by historically harsh marijuana laws, and now those same communities stand to be directly impacted by the changes in the legal cannabis industry.
Consider in the past how tobacco companies aggressively targeted cigarette advertising and promotion at African-American, Hispanic and other minority communities. The influence of advertising and promotion on tobacco use and prevalence are important criteria in assessing how this new green economy will be perceived on a consumer level. The impact of advertising and promotion on the behavior and media is important. Tobacco and alcohol advertising have been the economic mainstays of in African-American media for decades, with special targeted advertising often developed by non-Multicultural marketing firms. Not to mention the targeting at entertainment, sporting and cultural events — as well as political and literacy campaigns by those same entities. Who will speak up on behalf of the urban demographic with commentary that shapes stories to remove stigma, educate, and inform of the varied opportunities available. Looking at Black and Latino communities beyond their ability to consume? Marketers have direct access to the tools, the influencers and most importantly the budgets to create the story around cannabis in relation to the African-American community and prospective entrepreneurs.
SHOW UP, WHEN THE BEAMS GO UP.
Overall, the future of cannabis is in the hands of those who choose to flip their marketable skills and adapt them to this emerging industry. Simple analogy: if you’re unemployed and notice a new business going up in the neighborhood, you don’t ask for an application after the doors open — you show up when the beams go up and ask around to find out when they have the open house hire dates. Our community ultimately needs a lot of education, support, advocacy and information in order to be profitable with legal cannabis. Similar to the disparities in tech (don’t get me started), there are sectors within the green economy that could benefit from the innovation and creativity that a diverse group of entrepreneurs can bring. The urban community, will need to do the work to continue to shift from consumers and bystanders, to creators of the platforms and services that power this industry.
There are many resources available to help you navigate the legal cannabis industry. Here are just a few starting points to learn more about the cannabis botanical itself, as well as employment information.
Social help & training for previously convicted: Defy Ventures Defy Ventures
How create a cannabis social club or advocacy group: Cannabis Social Clubs Manual
Denitria is a senior media + marketing strategist who helps Fortune 500 companies speak to the right markets. Her goal is for marketers to increase their CulturalIQ, she has an affinity for #BrilliantMofos and the emerging cannabis market. Denitria is a featured moderator for online chats on tech, branding and entrepreneurship; Guest Speaker on various marketing podcasts + roundtables; and has been quoted in many publications regarding those same topics.
Originally published at cannadgtl.com.