Jeff Tyler put together a great segment for yesterday’s Marketplace podcast concerning the growing size (and sophistication) of the marijuana industry. This is one of many recent stories from larger media outlets that, like the industry itself, is moving away from the novelty of marijuana and treating it like any other business segment. You can listen to it here.
As mentioned in the Marketplace piece, there is more and more talk in the industry about how the little guy is doomed. That local growers and providers will eventually be overtaken by corporate marijuana. I don’t think this is inevitable. The little guy can survive, and even thrive, in a mature and corporatized marijuana industry. . . if we get federal regulation right.
Getting federal regulation right for the marijuana industry is to follow in the footsteps of alcohol. There is (surprising to many) very little regulation concerning alcohol at the federal level, leaving the states and local municipalities to primarily regulate brewers, distillers, distributors, liquor store and bars. Some states are more permissive than others, and county or local laws vary within each state. The result is a mess of regulations across the country. That mess can be frustrating, but it hasn’t stopped national and international beverage companies from being highly successful. It has, however, helped the craft brewing industry get and keep its foot in the door at local levels. Conveniently for the little guy, mirroring the alcohol regulatory scheme is one of the most politically feasible paths forward at the federal level.
Don’t get me wrong, we represent organizations that are aiming to be one of the few marijuana mega-operators (and some of them will undoubtedly make it). But we also represent sophisticated entities that provide ancillary services to licensed operators. Maintaining a disbursed and vibrant group of local licensed operators is beneficial for the long term health of the marijuana business ecosystem. Fortunately, the current mess of state regulations will be helpful in maintaining that diversity should the federal government take a minimalist approach with regard to the marijuana industry.