The convention floor at Denver Airports Crowne Plaza on a recent afternoon could have been the trade show for any well-established industry gray-haired execs in conservative suits mingling with office park dads in polos and fresh-out-of-college types in brand-emblazoned T-shirts. Only this is a new kind of business conference with a special Colorado theme: legal weed.
After Colorado voters legalized marijuana in 2012, more states and cities are considering a similar path for themselves. At the same time, the cannabis market is looking less like a music festival and more like a Silicon Valley confab upscale, data-driven and focused on investors.
Vendors and potential financiers at last months Marijuana Investor Summit here in the Mile High City say the current market for legal cannabis is more than $3 billion in the 23 states that have already legalized the drug for medicinal or recreational use. Expanding that market, they say, will require not just drug reform legislation, but also a consistent infusion of capital at a time when the marijuana economy still exists in a legal gray area one where the drug is permitted in some states, but still outlawed at the federal level.
Its going to take time, but its a great opportunity, said Chris Rentner of Akouba Credit, a Chicago small business lender exploring the possibility of working with marijuana businesses. For people that think everyone is a stoner lying on the sidewalk passed out, its going to take time for them to get comfortable with it. But theres too much money in it. We just need to figure out the risk associated with it, but if we can find a way where it makes sense legally, then why wouldnt we try to be in this market?