Wisconsin’s next growth industry?
The Badger State is still far from legalizing marijuana, but there’s a business case for going pro-pot.
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Raising all ships
It would be wrong to assume legalized marijuana would have its biggest benefits only on growers and sellers.
Nearly all industries will benefit from marijuana legalization, notes Kennedy. “From the tourism industry to the food industry — I say that with a chuckle — as well as all other industries that will have a happier, healthier workforce.”
As an example, Forbes published an article earlier this year highlighting a couple who infused marijuana throughout their wedding, from the food to the bouquets and everything in between.
“Weddings are certainly a niche area where legalizing marijuana could present a boost — it’s actually been amazing to learn about how different industries, goods, and services have seen economic benefits from legalization in other states,” says Sargent. “I think people often think of the economic benefits to be pretty compartmentalized and only benefitting marijuana retailers and producers. But what we’re seeing in other states is that legalization’s economic benefits aren’t isolated to the people who grow it and sell it; we’re talking about this having a positive effect on countless other industries.”
One of the biggest benefits of legalized marijuana for businesses is that they can get involved in the industry in many different ways, Walsh concurs. Existing mainstream businesses such as consulting services, marketing firms, computer software developers, lighting companies, and greenhouses all benefit.
“You’ve got 60- and 70-year-old greenhouse companies that have served in a traditional agriculture space, that have created divisions just for the cannabis industry now,” Walsh explains. “These are conservative, mainstream companies and they’re able to serve this new growth industry. You have law offices that have gotten involved. Marketing, advertising, PR — the list goes on and on.”
Walsh says technology, in particular, is becoming a big factor in the legal marijuana industry. “You have some veterans in the tech space who have moved into marijuana and are starting companies. They’re doing everything from point-of-sale software to dispensary listing sites — like Yelp for the marijuana industry.”
Legal is also big right now. The industry needs lawyers and they have to be focused on a particular state’s laws, explains Walsh.
On the cultivation side, there are also myriad opportunities. Any company that makes lighting, greenhouses, nutrients, or anything tied to general agriculture is seeing a boost, as well.
“The legal marijuana industry employs over 200,000 people, so it’s a job generator, it’s a new avenue for entrepreneurs, and it provides a great growth industry for existing businesses to get involved in,” says Walsh. He adds that some of Greater Madison’s main industries like health care, biotech, and agriculture fit right into this.
“I guarantee in 10–15 years this will be completely mainstream, and every company will be kicking themselves for not getting involved, or for fighting it, or attaching a stigma to it and turning up its nose. The industries you have in Wisconsin are ripe to capitalize on this.
“You can do it with a morally justifiable position,” Walsh continues. “On the medical side, it’s hard to justify blocking legalization attempts or to demonize the industry, and that’s why you’ve seen this wave of states legalize, where well over half the country has now legalized medical.”
According to Sargent, recent economic analyses from the Marijuana Policy Group shows the economic boon resulting from full legalization in Colorado. In 2015 alone, the state saw $1 billion in marijuana sales and more than 18,000 new jobs. Marijuana in Colorado generates more per dollar in economic output and employment than 90% of the state’s other industries. By 2020, it’s estimated that marijuana will be the state’s highest excise revenue source.
“We have a pretty severe budget crisis in Wisconsin, and there is no shortage of areas in which we could use the economic surplus to address our insolvent transportation fund, boost AODA programming to address our heroin epidemic, or even just to make school funding whole after seven years of cuts,” says Sargent.
There is one concern for employers, argues Walsh. “I’d say the biggest concern is that the industry is going to take your employees. It’s an innovative, exciting, rapidly growing industry, and people want to work in it even if they don’t use marijuana at all. I came from a journalism background and worked as a business reporter and editor at newspapers. [Marijuana Business Daily’s] two co-founders came from the banking and marketing worlds. So other employers now have to compete with an industry that people actually want to work in because there’s rapid growth, and it’s fun.”
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