It hasn't taken long for Colorado's "adult use " marijuana industry to flourish.
With the leap from medicinal use to recreational consumption having become legal on January 1, the business is growing, if you'll forgive me, like a weed. In the first week, the owners of the state's 37 dispensaries estimated that sales topped $5 million, with prospective customers lined up outside the doors for blocks, even as dwindling supplies pushed prices skyward.
As with any new industry, the recreational marijuana trade is creating new and varied jobs. Though entrance into the basic pot-shop business is difficult and currently limited to the states that allow adult use, it will doubtless become less onerous over time. Meanwhile, there are occupations springing up around this nascent business that allow a glimpse into just how important marijuana will become to the troubled job market.
Marijuana dispensaries face tough regulations
At the moment, shops that sell recreational pot are the same ones that sold medicinal weed before adult use became legal. Heavy regulation will probably help the business in the long run, keeping criticisms that could scuttle the budding industry at bay. For now, though, it also keeps the bar very high for those looking for an entrepreneurial entry into the market.
Opening a shop in Colorado is limited to those who have lived in the state for at least two years, and every person working in the industry must be licensed -- in addition to the myriad licenses required to operate both the retail and growing portions of the business. Things will get easier in October, however, when separate agricultural and retail entities will be allowed. The state's inventory program, which tracks each plant from planting to point of sale, however, is both expensive and time-consuming for shop owners.
Tourism is already huge
Even with fewer than 40 legal shops in operation, tourism is blossoming. Tours of pot-growing operations are popular, and several tour companies have sprung up to take advantage of visitors' curiosity. My420Tours -- the name apparently based on the number of days between the vote to legalize marijuana and the first actual weed sales -- has already begun offering four-day, wine-country style tour packages for $1,200 to $1,400 -- excluding plane fare.
Others offer similar packages, with prices ranging from $400 for a bus tour to $10,000 for a full week of ogling every Colorado business that has anything to do with the marijuana trade -- from glass-blowing shops to ski resorts.
A sampling of other emerging occupations
Law enforcement positions are poised to cash in, too, once some prickly legal issues are cleared up. Police in Seattle, for example, are wondering whether or not they can participate in pot shop security details, since the federal government still considers marijuana a controlled substance. Law enforcement in Colorado decided not to test the issue, possibly as a precaution against any dicey situations that might threaten the initiative. Though recreational use is legal in Washington, shops there won't open for business until later this year.
Meantime, this opportunity seems to open up possibilities for non-police security firms, as well.
Even former federal agents can use their expertise in the legal weed industry, like the former DEA agent who now works for a private equity firm as a marijuana industry consultant, helping the company with its pot-related investments.
Then there's the freelance writer who began penning a marijuana advice column for the Denver Post just as adult use became legal.
If you're worried about start-up costs, High Times magazine has created a private equity fund, giving wannabe cannabis entrepreneurs a place to turn for funding -- and investors a chance to get in on the action.
A total of 21 states, including Washington, D.C., already allow medicinal marijuana use, so it seems only a matter of time before others follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington state. With estimates of the pot market's value maturing from $1.4 billion to $10.2 billion before 2020, there's little doubt the cannabis trade represents one of the decade's growth industries.
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