Higher Ground: Going Green 

How to get involved in the marijuana business without getting your hands dirty

The tide of change in marijuana is pretty much in evidence across the country — even the most anti-drug states are going for CBD-only or hemp farming laws — and all kinds of businesses are involved in the booming marketplace.

A recent national economic analysis on nerdwallet.com estimates that Michigan would gain $122 million a year in taxes on legal recreational marijuana. That's just the taxes; the overall market in the United States was estimated at $14 billion.

There has been a green rush into everything from stocks to dispensaries to edibles to growing to testing labs by investors who were ahead of the curve on this commodity.

But wait, you say, at the prospect of throwing in with your friends to open a dispensary in that empty building on the corner. You kind of like the idea, but the fear of going to jail lurks in your mind. You've heard about plenty of folks who thought they were doing things legally getting into trouble with the law. Some crusading county prosecutors have been out to set a tone that they're not marijuana-friendly. Also, you've heard that banks are leery of doing business with that sector because of federal money-laundering laws. How are you going to do business without banks?

How about you skip the marijuana part of it all? There are all kinds of marijuana-related businesses taking off wherein there is no actual contact with marijuana. One of those is the legal profession. There have always been lawyers to defend people accused of marijuana crimes. Now lawyers are advising on all aspects of marijuana law. Cannabis Counsel in Detroit is an office that not only defends, but has been an activist in challenging the law and creating a more open climate. One of its attorneys, Matt Abel, is also director of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Another such office is Komorn Law in Southfield, which offers legal advice to folks considering investing in marijuana-related businesses.

Law school is not a requirement to get in on this. Here's a business that's been popping up in just about every neighborhood — a gardening store. You can sell everything that somebody else needs to grow marijuana and never have to touch the stuff yourself. Of course you have to know what you're talking about when advising someone on what they need for certain situations. And while you might use that silly tomato euphemism when talking about growing marijuana, it's not necessary.

"Tomatoes — on a daily basis, that still comes up," says Jonathan Pavley, a co-owner of the Green Thumb grow store on Woodward in Ferndale. "There are new and old cultivators. The older ones want to talk about tomatoes. They aren't fully comfortable with embracing the new culture. Actually, I'm kind of blown away at my new levels of comfort."

Not only can you sell growing equipment, you can charge people to teach them how to grow. A guy in Chicago recently charged $300 a head for a seminar on how to grow marijuana. The odd thing about that is the new Illinois medical marijuana program doesn't even allow home grows. Their system is for 22 state-licensed cultivators and some 60 dispensaries. But the point is that you can teach how to grow marijuana without any actual marijuana on the premises.

Here's another relatively safe route that you may have spent some serious time learning about at college — how to make a bong. There's a market out there, and devices for ingesting marijuana are part of it. Glass pipes are interesting and artistic implements that are always on display at hemp fairs and rallies. Pipes and bongs are well-honored and colorful implements of the marijuana tradition. And even though Tommy Chong went to jail for delivering paraphernalia across state lines back in 2003, it's pretty safe to sell this stuff.

Security systems are also something to think about. If you're handy with writing code, you can apply that to marijuana businesses that need everything from inventory-tracking software to video surveillance systems and grow-room controls.

Speaking of grow rooms, you can design grow rooms to fit into different kinds of spaces, create your own growing systems, create your own lighting systems or cloning systems, temperature and humidity regulators. All of this stuff is high on inventiveness and you don't need marijuana on the premises to develop and manufacture. All of this could be a new market for building contractors and electricians.

Here's something else you might not have thought about: When it comes to marijuana distribution, packaging is a brand-new concept. In the old days, a plastic baggie was state-of-the-art for packaging your product. Now with edibles, oils, tinctures, and lotions on the market, the need for packaging that informs you about what you have and how to handle it will become more and more important.

And then there's the advertising and public relations side of this. A provisioning center owner once told me that he doesn't have to sell because "bud sells itself." True enough, but in an open marketplace, there will be competition for where and under what circumstances that people are comfortable getting their bud from you. The old model was focused on not get arrested while distributing an illegal product. The new model will be convincing people that your product is the most enjoyable or safe or convenient. It will involve engaging the community rather than hiding from the community. That means developing communications strategies.

Media has been a big part of changing attitudes about marijuana. There have been numerous documentaries on the subject in recent years. Super High Me, In Pot We Trust, A NORML Life, and Should I Smoke Dope are among the dozens of films casting a new light on marijuana. There are plenty more out there, but still plenty of angles for aspiring filmmakers to plumb. In addition there are new books being published on a regular basis, as well as magazines, websites, and songs.

Rapper Afroman's "Because I Got High" is a cool couch cruise down the avenue of new sensibility.

Several months back, I heard discussion of someone in Colorado trying to develop a television show about the subject. We'll really know that the weed has arrived when there's a program with a character who works in the industry and it's not a major part of the plot.

If you're a doctor opening up a clinic that utilizes marijuana therapies, that's wide open territory. Polls show that a majority of doctors believe medical marijuana is useful. However, most hospitals, clinics, and other institutions where doctors work tend to frown upon the practice. Those are more concerned about legalities and lawsuits.

Marijuana seems to be a big generator of business for folks who never want to get near the stuff. And this list doesn't even touch the thousands of products that can be made from hemp. Of course, you can legally import that industrial product. Just don't try to grow it around here.

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