How to Get Started in a Legal Cannabis Business
More than half the states in the U.S. have already legalized marijuana in some form. Most of these states have started by legalizing medical marijuana for patients with qualifying conditions, while some states also have programs for recreational cannabis.
The cannabis industry is expected to grow into a $21 billion market by 2021. With business booming and the potential for high return on investment, there’s much interest in starting a legal cannabis business. However, because of the complex cannabis laws and regulations that vary by state, it’s easy to get lost and confused by all the requirements it takes to participate in this multi-billion industry.
Before you start your marijuana business and even consider beginning the application process, you should study your state’s specific marijuana programs, laws, and regulations. Because the legal cannabis industry is relatively young and highly regulated, starting a marijuana business won’t be like launching a regular business.
In this guide, we will briefly discuss the cannabis industry’s history, the unique requirements of becoming a cannabis entrepreneur, and marijuana business ideas. We will also talk about how you can improve your chances of getting a license.
Brief History of the Cannabis Industry in the U.S
Cannabis prohibition dates back to 1937 when the Marihuana Tax Act was passed. The Act levied a tax on anyone who dealt in marijuana, cannabis, or hemp. Just a year later, hemp was declared as the “New Billion Dollar Crop” because of its 25,000+ potential uses. And by 1942, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Army urged farmers to grow hemp. And though the Marihuana Tax Act was rendered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1969, cannabis was classified under Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act.
It would be decades before the journey toward legalization of marijuana would begin. In 1996, California passed Proposition 215, legalizing the medical use of marijuana in the state. Arizona, Alaska, District of Columbia, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Colorado, Hawaii, and Nevada legalized medical marijuana and developed their own medical marijuana programs over the next four years.
More states would follow suit over the next few decades, with some states legalizing recreational marijuana for adults. In 2018, the passing of the Farm Bill or the Agriculture Improvement Act into law legalized hemp and ended federal prohibition of hemp and hemp-derived products. .
Business Opportunities in the Cannabis Industry
The booming cannabis marketplace means a variety of business opportunities for entrepreneurs looking for their slice of the multi-billion-dollar pie. Because of the many types of cannabis businesses, getting started requires a decision on which area of the sector to focus on. While cannabis businesses now come in all shapes and sizes, the following are the most common marijuana businesses:
Dispensary – Marijuana dispensaries are also referred to as retail stores. They are the physical stores where consumers can buy cannabis products. This type of cannabis business is ideal for the entrepreneur who enjoys contact with the customers. Depending on your state, this could be a recreational or medical marijuana dispensary.
Cultivation Facility – Marijuana cultivation businesses are also known as grow facilities. Depending on the state regulations, marijuana may be grown indoors or outdoors. Cannabis cultivators are typically located in remote areas because of the space requirement. To maintain quality, cultivation businesses have facilities that are climate-controlled, well-ventilated, and have advanced irrigation systems. They are also expected to be highly secured.
Extraction Lab – Extraction labs have advanced extraction systems and extraction technicians that use processes to extract pure compounds from the cannabis plant. These potent extracts are what you will find in commercial products, such as oils, tinctures, and concentrates.
Manufacturer – Marijuana products can be consumed in a multitude of ways. Manufacturers process the cannabis plant to produce a variety of products, such as edibles and concentrates.
Transportation Services – Marijuana transporters get marijuana from point A to point B, safely and legally. Because marijuana is highly regulated, traditional courier services are out of the question. Only licensed marijuana transportation services are allowed to move raw marijuana materials and goods. This type of business will typically require armored vehicles and trained and armed drivers to ensure goods are delivered without incident.
Investing in Cannabis
Starting your own cannabis business operation isn’t the only way to get your start in the marijuana industry. Many people decide that investing in cannabis stocks is a good way for them to understand the industry before fully committing to business ownership. This approach will require market research into the performance of existing cannabis operations and an understanding of industry trends. Educate yourself and stay up-to-date on the latest cannabis business news and the ever-changing rules and regulations of the cannabis industry.
How to Improve Your Chances of Getting Licensed
The highly regulated nature of the cannabis industry makes getting a license for your business to operate legally challenging. And since most license applications are evaluated using a scoring methodology to rank them based on quality, competition is fierce. However, the application process for licensing is complex and rigorous for a reason; it’s to weed out those who do not have a potentially successful business strategy and the ability to operate a legal cannabis business properly.
Completing a marijuana license application is not a one-man job. It requires the expertise and insight of various cannabis professionals – ranging from operations to tax accounting and compliance with cannabis regulations. Some basic requirements the application process include are a well-developed business plan, detailed standard operating procedures (SOPs), and proof of strong financials. Before you begin the application process, you will also need to secure cannabis-friendly real estate that complies with all the zoning laws of your state. You will also need to craft a blueprint of your cannabis business facility, ensuring that it abides by all the compliance laws of your state.
Because of all the requirements, documents, and specialized skills needed to complete a license application, it would be wise to leverage the expertise of a cannabis consulting agency. Cannabis consultancies have teams of experts who specialize in each area of the cannabis industry – from licensing to accounting to compliance to facility design to branding. With years of experience in marijuana licensing and permitting, professional application writers will help you complete each section of the application properly by using an efficient process that saves you time and money.
Realistically, you may only have one shot to secure a cannabis license. Most states have a limited number of marijuana business licenses to award. Once an application window closes, another one won’t likely open unless the state determines that the existing marijuana businesses cannot meet consumer demand. Because cannabis licensing is highly competitive, an experienced cannabis business consulting company will ensure you are equipped with everything you need to make your application stand out.
Before you build your business, you need to understand the complexities of obtaining business licenses in the marijuana industry. Because the industry is highly competitive, and marijuana remains illegal under federal law, your best chance at becoming successful is to leverage the expertise of cannabis professionals who can increase your chances of getting licensed while ensuring you remain compliant with the law.