U.S. Cannabis startups struggle to navigate opportunity and legality

Global Business

U.S. Cannabis startups struggle to navigate opportunity and legality

A recent Gallup poll says that 64 percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, nearly double the support since the early 2000’s. That’s being celebrated at the Cannabis Business Summit and Expo in San Jose, California.

The industry has also scored recent victories with the conservative U.S. state of Oklahoma having just approved medical marijuana and the recent nationwide legalization of cannabis in Canada.

CGTN’s Mark Niu reports.

At the Cannabis Business Summit and Expo, former Deputy Attorney General under the Obama administration James Cole took the stage.

He composed a memo back in 2013 urging a hands-off approach to enforcing cannabis prohibition.

“If people are going to smoke marijuana, where are they going to get it? If we don’t have room for an industry that is regulated, that is legitimate, that is run properly, then people are going to get marijuana from cartels and street gangs,” said Cole. 

So far, nine U.S. states and Washington, D.C., have legalized cannabis for adult use and 30 for medical use.

Aaron Smith heads the National Cannabis Industry Association, which is trying to break stereotypes.

“The cannabis industry is a new industry. It has learned the lessons from the failures of Big Tobacco and Alcohol and have a commitment to making sure that cannabis is not marketed to the youth for example, or sold into the criminal markets because it just doesn’t make good business sense,” said Smith.

And on the expo floor, you’ll find a lot of hi-tech machinery like an extraction machine from Viridios. It can extract 85 percent of cannabinoids from the Cannabis plant in just 81 minutes.

But it’s not just hi-tech here. There are lawyers, business advisors, certified public accountants and collection agencies ready to take your business.

“There’s a bit of a vacuum happening in the cannabis industry right now. They didn’t need any of these ancillary services under prohibition. Now that we’ve moved into a regulated legal marketplace, you’ve got all kinds of businesses that are servicing the cannabis industry that never really thought they’d be participating in the industry,” said Matt Beechinor, Co-Owner of Munch Machine.

Beechinor’s company Munch Machine created a technology that can remove the flower of the cannabis plant from the stem.

Chinese company Solid Lite from Shenzhen is capitalizing on the massive demand for LED lighting to save energy costs for indoor growing.

“The biggest market right now is in Canada because it’s fully legalized. Everyone can grow cannabis. But USA is a much bigger market. It has the bigger potential,” said Cameo Tan, Sales Director of Solid Lite.

Grower Mark Beegle is here selling 11 strains of cannabis products he created. That’s in sharp contrast to his days of living in the shadows and getting arrested.

“It is so surreal to get in my car with 40 lbs of marijuana because we are taking it to a dispenser to sell it and not have to worry about it,” said Beegle, the founder of Three Finger Farm. “Very surreal .”

Three Finger Farm’s key investor is Mike Connor, who says medical marijuana helped him beat his opioid addiction.

He points out that marijuana is still a violation of U.S. federal law – a tough situation for business.

“You can’t run a corporation properly if you can’t open a decent bank account with one of the major banks,” said Mike Connor of Concept to Harvest.

The National Cannabis Industry Association estimates current cannabis sales at 10 billion dollars annually, and believes that could double within the next three years.