After more than five years, I’m still astounded at how fast this business is evolving
One of the truly amazing things about the cannabis industry is the pace by which it has grown and evolved.
I know that sounds like a really obvious statement, but after five full years of working in this industry, I’m still blown away at how quickly trends have come and gone, how quickly the legalization movement is spreading across North America — and how much faster each year goes by as I approach the age of 40. It’s a conversation I’ve had with entrepreneurs and executives over and over again (the pace, not my age), and I hear almost the exact same thing from those people who, like myself, have lived and breathed their businesses and this industry nonstop for years.
The industry’s rapid growth is probably obvious even to the most casual observers — I’m sure the same could be said of the tech industry at different points in history — but it’s astounding, nonetheless.
When we started Marijuana Venture, Washington and Colorado were the only states in the country that had legalized cannabis for recreational use. I really believed more states would follow, but I thought it would be a slow trickle; Oregon and California, obviously, and probably Alaska within a couple years. After that, I expected states would sit on the sidelines for maybe even a few years, watching how this grand experiment unfolded. There were some inevitable problems, and we may not fully understand some of the unintended consequences of legalization yet, but once the pendulum shifted, it seemed like nothing was ever going to go back to the way it was.
The progress of marijuana reform has been exponential. Think about it like this: It took 60 years of prohibition before the first medical marijuana law was passed in the United States; it took eight years to get to 10 states, another decade to get to 20, and only five years to surpass 30.
On the recreational side, Washington and Colorado were followed in 2014 by Alaska and Oregon. California, Nevada and Massachusetts came on board with the 2016 election, Michigan in 2018.
The issue is so big now that every single presidential candidate while have to address the subject on the campaign trail. I can remember marijuana being addressed in past presidential campaigns, but mostly to denounce and deny in the most resolute terms possible. Bill Clinton’s preposterous line about not inhaling is foremost in my mind, a statement that sounded so desperate to separate himself from those people who smoke pot.
Those who are a little older than me can probably remember cannabis being exploited on the campaign trail to prove candidates were “tough on crime” or “thinking about the children.” They supported the stigma that smoking weed — whether in your reckless youth or as a responsible adult — was an innate disqualifier of public office (let alone plenty of jobs in the corporate world). When Jeff Sessions, long before becoming attorney general, said good people don’t smoke pot, it wasn’t just one right-wing nutjob pandering to a dogmatic audience of evangelists and southerners. It was a prevailing notion that drug use, even of the responsible variety, was killing this country, while ignoring — and worse yet, profiting from — the far greater damage done by mass incarceration.
Many politicians over the years have used the anti-drug rhetoric as a way to be racist without wearing a white hood or screaming about a border wall.
Now, it seems candidates have almost gone too far — “Yeah, I smoked weed!” — as if to prove their coolness to the hip, progressive electorate. Acknowledgements that would have been considered political career suicide just a generation ago are now being vetted for accuracy and authenticity. Was it an indica or a sativa? Was your bong made in China or hand-crafted by a local artist?
When I would hear people talk about federal legalization, even just a year or two ago, I thought it was the furthest thing from possible. I honestly thought Congress would never come together on an issue as controversial and divisive as legalizing marijuana. With many of the same professional obstructionists and foot-draggers in Congress who blocked Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination, we’d be years, if not decades, from major cannabis reform — unless it could somehow be attached to a federal firearm rider. And we may still be. There’s no doubt the entire prison industry is incentivized to keep people in jail for minor offenses (maybe former guards can work security at all the new cannabis retail shops and grows that legalization would bring). The battle is far from won. But the more I watch, the more I believe we are on the precipice of something major.
And it’s not just the wild growth of the industry and the movement that contribute to the breathtaking pace. It’s the fact that we’re watching this industry develop and evolve right before our eyes. We’re witnessing the trends we could only hope to predict a handful of years ago: the meteoric rise of CBD; the increasing value of established cannabis brands; the rapid growth of multi-state operators; the commoditization of flower; the increasing market share of edibles and vape products; the flood of venture capital-funded businesses driving out the “little guys”; and the over-saturation of media companies and publishers.
To the best of my knowledge, when we started Marijuana Venture as an eight-page black-and-white newsletter in March 2014, it was the only monthly cannabis business “magazine” in the country. Of course, our publication didn’t look like a magazine those first few months, and we didn’t get national distribution until May 2015, when we first started selling it in Barnes & Noble, but I still get emails from people who kept that first folded mailer. It’s a relic of the early days of the rec industry when nobody really knew how things would unfold.
Someday I’ll go back and figure out how many total magazines we’ve published, how many people we’ve interviewed, how many stories we’ve written. By my best guess we’ve published more than 1.5 million printed words in the past five years — roughly the equivalent of two Bibles.
Some of the big challenges of publishing a monthly magazine that reaches readers in all 50 states and Canada is the state-by-state nature of the industry and the fact that it’s in a constant state of flux as we learn more about the plant and consumer preferences. It’s a constant juggle to produce top-notch content that matters to our readers. How to balance cultivation and processing with retail and branding? How to touch on each state with enough depth to inform those readers without losing the rest of the nation?
These are also the considerations that make this industry fascinating to cover. When we started Marijuana Venture, I wondered if we’d get to a point where it got boring writing about a single subject day in and day out. As the magazine grew from eight pages to 100 within the first 10 months, it became evident we’d never run out of stories to tell or subjects to cover. At 62 issues and counting, I still find there aren’t enough pages in the magazine or hours in the day to research and report on all the subjects that warrant a deeper look.
As always, thanks for reading. And don’t be a stranger. I’m always interested in hearing about subjects that are important to readers or stories that resonated, positively or negatively.
Garrett Rudolph is the editor of Marijuana Venture. He can be reached at all hours of the day and night by email at Editor@MarijuanaVenture.com.