Is Cannabis The Next Internet?

The year was 1995. We were seated around an America Online conference room table in Vienna, Virginia. I was flanked by visionaries Steve Case, Ted Leonsis, Jan Brandt, Danny Krifcher and Eileen Bramlett. The excitement in the room was palpable. We were at the pulse point of radical change, and we knew it.

You all know what happened with that revolution. The Internet did change everything. And while no one is claiming that this next revolution — the Cannabis, Green Rush or Marijuana Boom — will change everything, it is already having a major effect on one pivotal area: job creation.

In the pioneering state of Colorado, where marijuana has been legal for more than a year, the unemployment rate plunged below the national average to six percent — the lowest number since the recession. The state is reporting 10,000+ new jobs, all from the legalization of both recreational and medical marijuana. With recreational marijuana expected on the ballot in 2016, California Cannabis Industry Association Executive Director Nate Bradley said the market could produce as many as 1 million jobs in eight years. That’s in addition to the estimated 100,000 people in the state who already work in medical marijuana related positions.

Recent statistics support the coming reefer-lution. Legal marijuana is reportedly the fastest growing industry in the US. According to leading cannabis research firm the ArcView Group, the legal cannabis market in the US grew 74% in 2014 to $2.7 billion, an increase from $1.5 billion in 2013. With a majority of Americans supporting the legalization of marijuana, legal pot could be a $30 billion industry by 2019.

Get Ready for the New Cannabis Careers

Remember when there was no such thing as a webmaster? A blogger? An app developer? Like the explosion of digital jobs in the 90’s, these green jobs didn’t exist before the coming of cannabis legalization. Before joining the growing ganja throngs, job hunters need to immerse themselves in the canna-culture, study the new job titles, and learn what kind of resume is needed to land one. With descriptors such as budtender, master cultivators, edible artisans, 420 tour operators, dispensary managers, concentrate developer, and cannabis concierges, most of today’s positions sound as gobbledegook as hacker, evangelist and open source once did.

No MBA? No problem. Simply polish up those skills — the ones you learned in grade school. For example, if you’re a whiz with teeny tiny scissors, you could earn $50,000 to 90,000 a year as a bud trimmer. The average bud trimmer, “whose job is to meticulously prune pot leaves from buds using a pair of tiny scissors,” earns a starting wage of anywhere between $12 to $15 per hour according to the Columbian. During harvest season, freelance bud trimmers — aka Trimmigrants — can earn anywhere from $300 to $500 per day.

A growing number of cannabis-centric employment agencies are here to help power the new job market: THC Jobs, 420Careers, Gradujuana, and my favorite: Ms. Mary Staffing. Based in Denver, Ms. Mary is the big kahuna of cannabis/hemp HR, offering HR and employee benefits functions.

The First Cannabis Unicorns?

When will the first billion-dollar cannabis company emerge? And from where? The maturing Colorado market? Washington? DC? California? West Coast-heavy AngelList currently includes 452 marijuana startups, 1626 investors, and an average $3.5 million valuation.

The hot companies from Seattle-based private-equity firm Privateer may be destined for that elusive unicorn slot, thanks to visionary entrepreneurs Brendan Kennedy, Michael Blue, and Christian Groh. All three quit their jobs in venture capital and investment banking “to shape the future of the legal cannabis industry.” Their strong belief that cannabis is a “mainstream product consumed by mainstream people” powers their growing brands: Tilray, Leafly, and Marley Natural.

Carter Laren and Ben Larson, founders of Gateway Incubator

My best unicorn bet? It’s placed enthusiastically on the recently launched Gateway Incubator, founded by two tech veterans, Ben Larson and Carter Laren. Headquartered in the quirkily innovative Leviathan Building in Oakland, a few blocks from Jack London Square, the new incubator will back two classes of 10 cannabis startups with $30,000 each, four months of office space, a demo day, and an extra month of work time with peers and mentors — all in exchange for 6% of equity. But the cash, which comes from MJIC, is the least of it. Gateway’s powerful network of mentors, investors and partners includes a wide range of knowledge experts, cannabis insiders, and of course (as it is the Bay Area), successful disruptors. This mix of of movers and shakers plus the creativity, vision, and passion of the selected startups gives Gateway a big boost in the unicorn stakes. The avalanche of accelerator applicants seems to concur.

Ben Larson at K-Tech

“We want to work with the ten best entrepreneurs we can find. At the end of the day, we’re looking for businesses that scale. When our classes graduate we want to have a roomful of investors who want to write checks for all ten companies,” says Gateway’s Ben Larson. “We have this unique opportunity to create the industry as we see it — as we want to see it. We want diversity, we go get more diversity. Want more women founders in the space? We go create more women founders. There are awesome organizations out there like Women Grow we’re happy to work with. The cool thing about the industry is that by virtue of being in the industry you are also becoming an advocate and getting involved in the cause. There’s a lot of passion — that’s what makes it so intoxicating to be in the industry today.”

But sorry, folks. Applications for Gateway’s Cohort 1 have closed. Still, wannabe unicorns can check out the new Gateway Works — California’s first co-working space for emerging cannabis companies.

I’m aiming to be one of them. Ready for BAKED, The Great American Cannabis Cook-Off? Or GreenLaw? How about GreenVest?

See you in Oakland.

Sarah Browne is an award-winning writer, consumer insights strategist, and expert advisor on trends, innovation and emerging cultural change. A serial entrepreneur and launch specialist, she loves to be in the trenches, taking products from concept to commercialization. A digital pioneer since her days as one of AOL’s first Greenhouse (incubator) Partners, she’s brought her creative and consumer insights expertise to companies from global giants to start-ups and small businesses. Her upcoming book “The New Cannabis Careers” launches Spring 2016. She loves to hear from readers: ping her at @guruofnew or

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