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Could Medical Marijuana Rival Big Pharma?

3/24/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: medical marijuana

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailMedical marijuana, currently legal for patients who have a doctor’s recommendation for it in 12 states, has become a $1.7 billion industry that could double in the next five years, according to an analysis released today by See Change Strategy. To put that in perspective, Viagra sales last year were $1.9 billion, Ryan Grim points out in the Huffington Post.  

One in four Americans lives in a state where medical marijuana is legal, and nearly 25 million people in those states have ailments that qualify them to buy it. See Change’s independent analysis found that 730,000 of the 24.8 million people who are eligible to legally purchase medical marijuana actually do so. Medical marijuana is sold on the open market, through stores or dispensaries, in seven states: California, Colorado, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, Washington and New Mexico. This year Arizona, Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia will begin selling it. California accounts for roughly three-quarters of all medical marijuana sales, with the bulk of the rest sold in Colorado. Those two states sell 92 percent of the nation’s medical marijuana.

The federal government, of course, doesn’t recognize marijuana as medicine. Under federal laws, weed possession can get you up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The Obama administration’s willingness to look the other way as long as medical marijuana businesses and patients follow state laws, however, has led to an explosion in registered medical marijuana patients and the businesses that cater to them. “Hundreds of businesses exist around the country that cultivate and sell marijuana to customers. Many of these businesses emerged in the wake of the Obama administration’s decision to deprioritize federal prosecutions of individuals and business complying with state medical marijuana laws,” said the report’s editor, Ted Rose. 'We're witnessing the beginnings of a legal business ecosystem around marijuana.'

In Oakland, California, Dhar Mann runs a 15,000-square-foot weGrow store dedicated to cannabis cultivation, dubbed the Walmart of Weed, and he plans to open stores across the nation. Last month, Seattle’s first medical marijuana farmer’s market was standing-room-only, CNN reports. In my hometown of Boulder, Colorado, marijuana-related businesses did $16.7 million in sales last year. General Cannabis and Medical Marijuana Inc. are two of about 25 marijuana companies that are publicly traded on low-profile stock exchanges, according to the Orange County Business Journal. In Paw Paw, Michigan, weed trimmers make $20 an hour, the Kalamazoo Gazette reports.

On April 2 and 3 in Denver, High Times magazine will hold its second Medical Marijuana Cannabis Cup, a domestic version of the international conference it sponsors every year in Amsterdam. The event will include a cannabis competition, panels of legal and medical experts, cultivation workshops and a Saturday night VIP party with hip-hop star Kid Cudi. High Times editor Dan Skye compares the current cannabis boom to the industry that grew out of the fitness craze beginning in the 1980s, including health clubs, certifying organizations and the $4 billion sneaker industry. 'The fact is, if the harnesses were taken off this plant, if it were unleashed, we'd see industry beyond belief,” he told Westword.

Is medical marijuana a legitimate business? We'd love to know what you think.


Oaksterdam University, the country’s first cannabis college, was founded in 2007. Photo by David Ramirez/flickr 

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