The legalization of cannabis has spread throughout 29 U.S. states thus far, and despite the controversy over the substance, it’s likely to continue expanding across the country. For Massachusetts — the first New England state to legalize cannabis — conversation has sparked between entrepreneurs, innovation start-ups, tech companies and venture capitalists, among others. This month, the MIT Enterprise Forum (MITEF) of Cambridge invited all to join a spectrum of cannabis cognoscenti across business, academia, and technology to bring their insights and expertise on the topic.
Panelists included, Aja N. Atwood, Trella Technologies, LLC co-founder, John de la Parra, Northeastern University’s department of chemistry and chemical biology; Richard Gibble, Arkras Research & Capital founding partner; Shanel Lindsay, Ardent founder and president; and Russel Wilenkin, Kiva Confections senior sales manager.
The event started off with moderator, Vinit Nijhawan, asking how many attendees in the audience were interested in entrepreneurial opportunity within the cannabis industry and was not surprised by the overwhelming sea of hands raised. Being an entrepreneur, venture capitalist and academic himself, he agreed that the flourishing market certainly presents prosperous strides for those looking to get involved.
While the panelists were already working within the cannabis community, there was little argument when addressing the many obstacles that still present themselves. Atwood was first to address the overarching issues connected to regulations constricting business evolution. Many cultivators are moving in the direction of vertical farming, which is an issue in states with plant count regulations and not ideal for taller and more popular sativa strains.
Vinit looked for both Gibble and Wilenkin to address the investment and production complications associated with the industry. Gibble did not beat around the bush when exposing that while the state of Massachusetts has legalized cannabis, big-time investors are hesitant to risk their capital until the plant is federally legalized. Not to mention investing is logistically challenging, if not impossible, as banks are federally insured and therefore cannot work with cannabis companies until it’s federally legal, making things harder for businesses who want to get a kick-start in the industry.
Furthermore, Wilenkin, who has first-hand experience working with growing cannabis businesses, explained how it’s difficult to get support from investors when the image of cannabis remains negative. Media outlets such as Instagram deactivate accounts if cannabis businesses begin to bring too much traffic to their site or attract too many followers. The negative stigma of “drug-dealing” comes into mind, regardless of no products being purchased via media outlets.
Despite the cards stacked against the cannabis industry, the panelists were certain that, like the internet in 1997, those who oppose cannabis now will not be so reluctant to join its economy in the future. There is an extreme amount of money to be made from the industry, and as Massachusetts continues to pass laws of legalization, all panelists foreshadowed a flow of investments to follow.