Business Bigwigs, Yale Grads & Wall Street Pros Eye Marijuana Industry in Wake of Legalization

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Professionals from the world of big business are looking to tap the emerging marijuana market in Colorado and Washington, eyeing everything from private equity funds and financial services firms to upscale cannabis stores.

The increased interest is expected: Legalization in Colorado and Washington could create an estimated $2 billion market (conservatively) if retail marijuana stores open as planned, leading to an avalanche of business opportunities. The chance to get involved in an industry with so much potential – and at such an early stage in its development – is hard to resist for seasoned business professionals.

Outside interest could be a great thing for the industry, helping to legitimize marijuana after it spent decades in the shadows, pumping much-needed money into the market and bringing a hefty dose of professionalism.

However, many long-time cannabis advocates and business owners (such as those who run hydroponics stores and head shops as well as home-growers and medical marijuana dispensaries) fear that big business will take over everything, focus solely on profits and knock out the little guys. Additionally, there’s no guarantee retail stores will ever open in Colorado and Washington. Although both states passed laws that pave the way for such businesses, the federal government could attempt to block retail shops.

Still, many entrepreneurs and professionals from other industries are now laying the groundwork in case the market does take off.

“We are receiving a lot of interest from venture capital firms, professional investors and high-net worth individuals who are interested in joining our investor network,” said Troy Dayton, CEO of The ArcView Group, which connects investors with cannabis businesses.

Perhaps the most high-profile individual to target the marijuana market is former Microsoft executive Jamen Shively, who plans to sell premium marijuana at a chain of high-end stores in Washington, a la Starbucks. He recently won the backing of a “major Wall Street trader” and thinks many investors will flock to cannabis. Here’s how Shively sums up his feelings about cannabis opportunities, courtesy KIRO-TV: “This is a new industry in the making, and it’s going to be a giant industry and the state of Washington is going to lead the way. What Kentucky became for bourbon, the state of Washington is becoming for marijuana. It’s going to be a huge boost to the economy.”

At the same time, a trio of professionals from the tech, banking and investing industries recently launched the first private equity fund focused solely on cannabis. All three of the founders have MBAs, two of them from Yale.

Consultants in Colorado and Washington also report they have received an influx of calls over the past month from individuals in the finance, software, insurance and consumer products industries who are interested in starting marijuana businesses.