Imagine – it’s 2025 in California. Marijuana has been recreationally legal for almost ten years. You leisurely walk into the local gas station and purchase a pack of Marley Natural Special Blend – a brand of marijuana cigarettes. While you stand outside and light up, people walk by you as they file in and out of the store. No one says anything to you. No one calls the police. No one cares what you are doing. Marijuana has taken root in the mainstream American culture. Big Marijuana has risen.
So what exactly is Big Marijuana? Is it the same as Big Tobacco? The answer to this question depends on how “Big Tobacco” is defined.
Generally, Big Tobacco is a derogatory term referring to the industry that consists of the largest tobacco companies in the United States. Big Tobacco reached the height of its power in the early 1960’s and was known for its enormous spending on political influence. Its lobby centered attention on the notion that the science of tobacco was uncertain, and it called into question each medical and scientific finding that was released to the public.
Now on the decline, Big Tobacco corporations such as Phillip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and Lorillard are credited with a long history of lying to Americans about the dangers of smoking. Their exploits include having doctors promote cigarettes as medicine and deliberately targeting children as “tomorrow’s potential regular customers.” Although Big Tobacco’s glory days have passed, it still remains a powerful entity, and is being used as the model to explain what the rising marijuana industry could one day become.
Will Big Marijuana follow the same path? This question is difficult to answer. However, certain parallels between Big Tobacco and the rise of marijuana in the United States are striking. Take, for example, the strategy employed by Big Tobacco of having doctors promote cigarettes as medicine. Is marijuana currently being promoted as a medicine? The legalization of medical marijuana in 23 out of our 50 states says that it is. What about the strategy employed by Big Tobacco of questioning each medical and scientific finding that was released? There sure seems to be a large variance of opinions about marijuana throughout the scientific and medical communities. Do you see the pattern? Or it is too soon to tell where the marijuana industry is headed? Or maybe you don’t care about the ethics of Big Tobacco, but you smell a business opportunity in Big Marijuana. You might be in luck.
As each year passes, more and more states and municipalities across the country are choosing to decriminalize marijuana and some are going a step further in choosing to legalize and regulate it. Nationwide support to end prohibition is increasing every day and money that was once being lost by enforcing the ban against marijuana is now being found through tax revenue from the regulation of marijuana’s distribution. In states like Colorado and Washington, millions of dollars are flowing from consumer pockets and into the hands of state governments and bold businessmen. In states where marijuana remains illegal, the black market continues to generate an exorbitant amount of untaxed profit for the opportunistic outlaw.
Whatever shape the marijuana industry may take in the future, it is clear that it is not going away. For a country that prides itself on its capitalist foundations, there is simply too much potential profit and opportunity for the marijuana industry to stagnate. As time moves forward, Big Marijuana will inevitably show its face, however beautiful or ugly it may be. If I – the entrepreneur, businessman, visionary – wanted to be that face, how would I get there?
In the hostile and dynamic legal environment that surrounds the marijuana industry, how would I advertise and market my company’s product or service to consumers? How would I expand my business across state boundaries? How would I protect my brand? How would I take on investments and stay on good terms with the IRS? And for all of this, is it even possible to build Big Marijuana?
These questions are daunting, and as the law changes daily the answers to these questions follow suit. But all hope is not lost. There are companies out there that have formed their own answers to these questions. Take Marley Natural, for example: the company that is planning on being the “Marlboro of Marijuana” plans to launch its first product in “Late 2015.”
If they can do it, so can I. In this multi-part series I will envision a potential framework of how a company might overcome some of these obstacles. Stay tuned for more.
Jeff Madrak for Drug Law and Policy – Follow us on Twitter @DrugLawPolicy