"When I realized you could make money in this industry I did an about-face,” says Jim Willet.
Such is the attitude of many of the newcomers to the movement to legalize marijuana.
Willet is a resident of Washington State where recreational marijuana was decriminalized last year. He voted against that initiative and was once a Navy pilot who flew drug interdiction missions. He has since changed his tune and is investing in numerous companies seeking to profit from the relaxed laws in his home state.
The desire to cash in on the burgeoning industry is pulling many individuals and government officials into the pro-legalization fold.
Last year, conservative New York Assemblyman, Steve Katz was arrested for marijuana possession during a routine traffic stop. The arrest made headlines, particularly, because Katz had repeatedly voted against legalizing marijuana. Since that arrest Katz has announced that he is now an advocate for medical marijuana and even legal, adult-use marijuana. Avoiding arrest is likely not the only motivation he found for supporting legalization. His transition from “against” to “for” legalization led him to the discovery that he may be able to make money in a country where marijuana is legal.
"And in the process I am also an investor starting a number of businesses,” he said.
A study by Arcview Market Research shows that the legal Marijuana trade in the United States is already a $1.4 billion industry. It is expected to grow to $2.57 billion this year and could be worth $10 billion in five years, according to the study.
Such numbers were likely part of the Obama administration’s recent decision to clear hurdles for banks who have customers involved in legal cannabis-related businesses. The Treasury Department just released new rules to make it easier for banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers and the Justice Department has directed U.S. attorneys not to legally pursue banks engaged in business with legal marijuana dispensers.
As support for legalization trickles up to the federal level, states are still finding unexpected sources of revenue due to relaxed marijuana laws. Colorado is just beginning to realize the potential for “weed-tourism.” The state expects to see an influx of tourists visiting based, partly, on the fact that they can openly use the drug. Some hotels are considering designated marijuana-smoking rooms.
Sources of hidden revenue like that are just the tip of the iceberg argues Katz. Cashing in on the movement is the way forward.
“The marijuana industry is the next great industry to emerge in our country," he said. "We are looking at a legacy of the great American tradition of free market entrepreneurialism.”