Entrepreneurs are gathered in New York City Friday, hoping to convince well-heeled investors that their cannabis-related businesses are worth the risk.
Several of the investors are from the Seattle area, including former Microsoft executives, millionaires and billionaires, all hoping to cash in on the emerging legal marijuana industry, now that voters have approved recreational pot in Washington state and Colorado.
"This is likely the next great American industry," said Troy Dayton, co-founder and CEO of the ArcView Group, which formed to promote the cannabis industry. "We had the tech boom, we had the green tech boom, we had the social networking boom and cannabis is next."
Much like the TV show "Shark Tank," potential investors will hear entrepreneurs pitch their plans to expand in the business of marijuana.
Dayton said his investors believe in cannabis. Call them rich activists, angel investors; they realize that business is a powerful platform for political change in this country.
"They want to see a day when not a single adult is punished for this plant and they know that having a profitable, respected and politically engaged cannabis industry will be a key factor in making that happen," Dayton explained.
Brendan Kennedy, head of the Seattle-based private equity fund Privateer Holdings acknowledges there is, or was, a reputation risk to investing in the business of cannabis. "And we're seeing that social taboo being eroded on a daily basis."
The overall cannabis market today is estimated at $40 billion to $50 billion and recently, Dayton's group made the cover of Fortune Magazine. He calls cannabis a ground floor opportunity. "The name of the game in business and the name of the game in investment is to recognize what's happening before everybody else," Dayton said.
Investors are wary of the federal government, which still considers marijuana illegal, despite the votes to legalize recreational pot. But the Obama administration has not declared how it will deal with the new laws in Washington and Colorado.
"We are in June of 2013 and we have not heard a word out of the Attorney General's office and silence is also kind of like a statement," figured Dayton.
One way investors avoid the risk of criminal exposure is to invest in companies associated with marijuana, but not the growers, distributors or sellers. For example, security firms, insurance companies, consulting firms and new grow light technology.
Still, Dayton believes "people are betting on a future where cannabis is legal."
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