My oh my, what Colorado has done to turn the tables on America's "war" on drugs.
Having approved marijuana for legal sale, distribution, and cultivation, Colorado is leading the way in attracting all kinds of investors and luminaries who seek to cash in on this nascent industry, not just with dollars but also with disruptive technology that's being developed by professionals of all stripes and colors.
Think of agricultural engineers, technicians, food and science specialists; the marijuana industry casts a wide net, capturing different types who can contribute their expertise on the growing of a cash crop for which the sky's the limit. Marijuana remains a Scheduled 1 drug, of course, but that hasn't stopped the industry from developing in all sorts of new directions thanks to the majority voters who have approved medical and/or recreational pot in their respective states.
Since retail sales began in January, the Marijuana Industry Group (MIG) estimates about 10,000 people are employed in Colorado's marijuana industry, with thousands more being added each month. Behind marijuana production lies technology. Companies like Boulder-based Surna, a manufacturer of disruptive equipment for the cannabis industry, are developing patents to facilitate the aggregation of the industry, leading the way with their own proprietary services.
"The approach is more synchronistic than people would imagine, and, as a result of that, we've been able to get some provisional patents filed that we think are incredibly disruptive and will be the technology that drives the growth of this industry," said Tae Darnell, VP and General Council of Surna.
Led by CEO Tom Bollich, a robotics engineer and co-founder of online gaming company Zynga, Surna has developed its own patented water-chilled climate control system designed for large marijuana production facilities. Darnell told me that Surna's ultimate goal is to push the boundaries of the industry itself, maximizing yield and experimenting with different potencies and their health benefits.
Cultivation of cannabis in the 21st century just might take off the way industrial hemp did before its production was shut down by the federal government. The times are a-changing, indeed. With more states on track to legalize cannabis for medical use, companies like Surna are looking to take advantage of this expansion and set the standard on such key issues as consistency, including food safety and the burgeoning edibles marketplace.
If the federal government continues to take a hands-off approach towards states that choose to legalize medical and/or recreational marijuana, this could very well go global, creating new business opportunities for U.S. firms. Uruguay stepped up to the plate having recently become the first country to legalize marijuana possession, use, and sales. Canada recently opened up its medical marijuana market to improve upon the production of quality-controlled marijuana.
"There is no doubt that the international and domestic markets are exploding, " said Darnell. "Surna plans to do for cannabis what General Electric has done for the medical industry and other sectors." Colorado wants to serve as a beacon for other states interested in embracing both marijuana regulation and the technology that is being developed to manage it.
The U.S. is still fragmented in its policies towards marijuana with 23 states now openly challenging federal laws that have approved it for medical use. But the potential remains huge, hence the excitement surrounding this fledgling industry. I have no doubt that if and when the federal government finally comes down on the side of regulating marijuana that we will one day see commercially available cannabis products nationwide.
Some of these brands will assuredly begin trading on the stock exchange, and before you know it, you'll be standing in line waiting to order your Blackberry Kush-infused latte, or Purple Urkle smoothie.