With cannabis becoming the economic cash cow none of us could have predicted, some of those responsible for building the cannabis industry we know today are being left out in the cold when it comes to legal cannabis.
Cannabis pioneers and small businesses are facing a new challenge as the economic potential for cannabis becomes realized in what is being called “big cannabis” by the industry and outsiders.
In many cases, cannabis means dollar-signs, experiencing a “pay to play” shift as the lucrativeness of cannabis becomes realized by those who have money to invest. By the end of 2017, the global cannabis industry was worth $7.7 billion, with projections of a global market worth to be $31.4 billion by 2021.
There’s money to be made in cannabis, but at whose expense? This is a peek at “Big Cannabis” and how we can work towards preserving the participation of small businesses and those who made the cannabis movement what it is today.
Big Cannabis, What?
More and more we’re seeing the term “Big Cannabis” creep into our verbiage in the industry, where cannabis business deals are announced daily in the millions and even billions.
Along with “big data”, “big pharma”, “big tech”, and everything considered BIG, cannabis is growing to become about the cash potential and hot deals that can be brokered. Cannabis companies are being publicly traded, acquired, and merged while small businesses continue to operate, and emerge as startups in this niche market.
Where does this new possible era of “Walmart weed” leave pioneers of early cannabis and newer companies like Oov and our many small business collaborators?
Here’s a look at three important groups that are getting left out in the cold of “big cannabis”.
Small Cannabis Farms Calling It Quits
Farmers are the cannabis pioneers that are feeling the strain of big cannabis the most.
For decades, dating back to the 1960s (and beyond), family cannabis farms have been thriving in “grey” markets in places like the Emerald Triangle in California and in the West Coast of Canada.
Through their low-key, under-the-radar lifestyles, they could provide people, manufacturers, and producers with high-quality, well-grown cannabis, while being able to make a nice living for their families. Merry Jane refers to this as the “blessed, almost utopian, life for many years,” that was in for a big change once legalization came on the radar.
“I’ve crunched the numbers, and what’s the point?”, says one farmer who feels it’s easier to throw in the towel than go through the expensive, lengthy, complicated, and non-guaranteed route to licensing.
In principle, for many early cannabis farmers, this new pay to play model goes against their ideas of escaping from “the Man” in order to pursue the quiet lifestyle that brought them to cannabis growing in the first place.
In addition to this, so many farmers in areas in Northern California are suffering from last year’s wildfires which destroyed dozens of cannabis farms. They’re having a hard time catching up with the thousands, millions, and billions of dollar deals going on over their heads.
How can the cannabis farming pioneers keep a strong foothold in the industry they helped make?
Women in Cannabis Being Overshadowed
We pay a lot of attention to the role of women entrepreneurs in cannabis here at Oov.
A perspective we explored in “Representations of Women in the Industry” was the role of early women cannabis pioneers in the emerging industry. We positioned that they’re now being faced with competition from white, male, Silicon Valley types as the new challenge for women to be ready to bust through. It’s a discourse that’s being discussed often.
“The marijuana industry is still primarily white male,” Amy Andrle, co-owner of L’Eagle Services, a Colorado-based cannabis dispensary told Bloomberg, “if the glass ceiling was 12 feet high in the banking industry, I think in marijuana it feels like it’s 20 feet high,” pointing to the differences between women’s positions in cannabis versus other industries.
With so many vying for investors, women cannabis pioneers wonder what they’re up against with so many large, “Big Cannabis” proposals hitting the desks of those ready to spend in cannabis: “It’s more difficult for women to get money and, when we do, we get less money,” said Shanel Lindsay, founder of the medical marijuana device Ardent.
What can women, and the cannabis industry do to level the playing field for women and men?
Advocates Can’t Play in Legal Markets
Another group being affected by “big cannabis” is the early advocates of cannabis who faced criminal charges. Many of them are kissing their cannabis careers goodbye because they legally can’t participate in cannabis.
Canada’s self-dubbed Prince and Princess of Pot Marc and Jodie Emery, who faced serious legal trouble for opening six Cannabis Culture dispensaries across Canada before legalization, are still in courts where they’re facing fines of $150,000 each. They’re barred from participating in the legal cannabis industry. Both are outspoken advocates against how legalization is leaving so many out who paved the way for cannabis.
Last year, more people in the USA were arrested for illegal cannabis sales than all crimes considered violent crimes. For any of these people, including those who approached cannabis with good intentions for health, they won’t be allowed to participate in the legal cannabis industry unless a pardon is given.
Preserving People and Small Businesses
How can we preserve the place of pioneers, women, early advocates, and small businesses in cannabis? Here are a few ideas and initiatives:
Many people have taken a personal pledge to support small businesses, including businesses run by minorities and women, and this is at the heart of what we do at Oov.
While cannabis companies and consumers recognize some cost savings with “big cannabis” (buy more for less), many keep an eye on conscious consumerism and putting their money where it will create impact. For some, they look for businesses’ corporate responsibility activities or will feel most comfortable buying from small businesses, knowing they’re helping someone’s family thrive on income derived from cannabis.
Networks are emerging that link small businesses and farmers to larger distribution networks, helping to level the playing field of access to cannabis markets. HARDCAR Distribution in California has just created a deal with Humboldt Brands to link over 100 small business Emerald Triangle farmers to larger distribution networks and dispensaries. Consumers can now intentionally choose who they source their cannabis from, thus, ensuring the profits from legal cannabis are being fed back to small businesses.
Equally important is to continue to recognize the role of the pioneers that came before us in the industry. Pay attention to what they’re saying, and help them keep their voice strong by sharing what they do, building on their prior contributions, or involving them in your work.
Keep a Level Playing Field for Cannabis
Cannabis is ours to enjoy together, and there are thousands of people around this world who are working tirelessly to advance the cannabis business. Some are big corporations, some employ a small team of people, and some are single-entity small home businesses. We equally have a right to participate in this business.
Let’s continue to keep a level playing field so cannabis continues to belong to all of us, and we can all equally benefit from the lifestyle and economic possibilities the industry and the wonderful plant we all love presents.
Anne-Marie is a freelance cannabis writer and educator dedicated to cultivating and disseminating important knowledge about cannabis as legalization spreads across the globe. After earning her BA and Masters, she followed an exciting career in the research and education field, finding innovative ways to create collaborations between community needs and research and academic pursuits.
She traveled the world with her husband and settled in Costa Rica where they also own a tattoo shop. She is now a full time writer for the world’s best cannabis companies, advocates and organizations.