Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Should marijuana reformers be especially focused these days on Silicon Valley and "the cannabis tech start-up"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new New York Times article headlined "Silicon Valley Tries to Alter Your Perception of Cannabis."  Here is an excerpt:

HelloMD is at the forefront of a new trend in Silicon Valley: the cannabis tech start-up.  As marijuana laws are being loosened across the country, entrepreneurs and investors are creating new businesses to cash in on what they see as an emerging bonanza.  Like start-ups in other industries, these firms are trying to use technology to bring speed and efficiency to what has long been a face-to-face, pen-and-paper market.  In the process, they are also trying to alter mainstream perceptions of the marijuana industry, shedding the ganja and Rasta imagery to cultivate a wider audience.

“What we see is moms, dads, professionals, old people, everyone wanting access to cannabis,” said Mark Hadfield, the founder of HelloMD.  “The old type of experience — go to a crummy doctor’s office, wait in line — was not going to appeal to the market that we were after, which is everyday Americans, a market that, by the way, is much larger than the old market of — I don’t want to call them stoners, but let’s say, ‘recreationally minded young people.’”

People in the marijuana industry have lately taken to saying that legal marijuana is the next Internet, an untrammeled new market opportunity that is just waiting for its own big brands, the Google and Facebook of pot.  But many businesses are also finding that, in an environment of only partial legality, not everything in the marijuana business is smooth sailing.

Proponents for legalization expect a handful of states to vote on ballot measures to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the 2016 election.  The biggest prize is California, where a wealthy coalition of advocates, including Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster and the former president of Facebook, is pushing for recreational legalization.  “California is the biggest domino,” said Justin Hartfield, the founder and chief executive of Weedmaps, a kind of Yelp for marijuana dispensaries, who is also backing the California initiative.  “Once California goes legal, very shortly after we’ll have a majority of states where adult use is legal.”

The ArcView Group, a company that connects investors to cannabis businesses, estimates the American legal cannabis industry generated $2.4 billion in sales in 2014, up 74 percent from 2013.  Legalization will lead to continued growth of at least double-digit percentage points for the rest of the decade, according to Troy Dayton, the chief executive of the ArcView Group.  “This is already the fastest-growing industry in America, and when these new markets come online, the impact will be huge,” Mr. Dayton said.

And when millions of new customers flood into the marijuana business, tech companies will be lining up to offer them an easy way to find a hit.  They’ve already made it pretty simple: After getting my prescription, I didn’t have to do much more to get some drugs.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2015/11/should-marijuana-reformers-be-especially-focused-these-days-on-silicon-valley-and-the-cannabis-tech-.html

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