Marijuana – the New Gold Rush

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In the 1800s, hundreds of thousands of Americans caught “gold fev” and were richly rewarded for finding caches of the soft, yellow, magical metal. The saying back then was “Thar’s gold in them thar hills!” Gold was big business; it involved big dreams and made big money, which helped create cities like San Francisco, Sacramento, and Eureka in California, as well as Leadville, Central City, and Cripple Creek in Colorado.The discovery of gold near these cities also created an empire for merchants meeting the demand for needed supplies — tools, wagons, burrows, dry and canned goods, to name a few. Gold strikes were gold for local businesses too. People moved long distances to get a slice of the golden pie — this business of mining and digging for gold, and selling products and services to assist in that endeavor. Riches were there to be had, and many made fortunes in this new, lucrative business. Hard work, long hours, and sometimes luck made many families wealthy. Today people worldwide still consider investments in gold to be the safest, most enduring investment available.

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During Prohibition in the 1920s, beer and alcohol production companies like Coors, Anheuser-Busch, Falstaff Brewing, Berghoff Brewing, Jim Beam Distillery, Jack Daniels Distillery, an Southern Comfort Distillery had to scramble to convert their facilities to produce non-alcoholic beverages. Many of the beer producers altered their facilities to make soft drinks, while the distilleries either went underground or temporarily out of business. They struggled to keep afloat until Prohibition was repealed. After Prohibition, these same companies once again generated hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, which in turn generated millions of dollars in state and federal revenue. Alcohol became the next “gold rush.” The breweries and distilleries also created jobs for countless numbers of people, feeding the economy with their spirits. And now we are in the midst of the next rush: the business of growing and dispensing marijuana.

Marijuana is the most common illegal drug used in the United States. Approximately 100 million Americans have tried marijuana at least once, and more than 25 million have smoked it in the last year.Beginning in 1996, over twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Revenues from these sales have increased the coffers in those states and allowed them to benefit from the latest “gold rush.” Now the saying has become “Thar’s weed in them thar hills!”

In 2012, two states, Washington and Colorado, bravely advanced to the next step and legalized marijuana for personal/recreational use. As of this publishing, there are forty-three states that have ballot measures to allow medical marijuana, and four states have put a legalized marijuana proposal on ballots for upcoming elections in 2014.As of right now, Wall Street doesn’t cover the marijuana market as an industry. However, some professional investors have seen many new start-ups begin to influence investors in the emerging market. Todd Harrison, CEO and founder of Internet-based financial media company Minyanville Media, Inc., predicts this will change. Harrison feels that once legalization is more widespread, investing in marijuana businesses will become a more conventional arena. Harrison says the marijuana industry “will be the single best investment idea for the next ten years and more.”

For the industrious and savvy entrepreneur— who can certainly be any one of us — the possibilities for making a substantial amount of money investing in marijuana businesses, Harrison believes, will be driven by the broader legalization of marijuana, inspired by states’ needs for tax revenue. He points to expectations that legal marijuana use is expected to generate $134 million in tax revenue for the upcoming fiscal year in Colorado, the first state to allow recreational marijuana. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and Harrison calls the state the “litmus test” for broader legalization. Harrison also cites the expected decline in crime rates and prison populations as powerful incentives to decriminalize marijuana use.

Is this the new Gold Rush? Will people want to get involved with this industry? What is the potential for earnings, millions? Billions? As more states agree to the sale of marijuana, the opportunity to open dispensaries and/or grow facilities will continue to rise. Over the last two decades, large corporations like Monsanto, a sustainable agricultural company, have bought up hundreds of family farms and turned their food harvests into huge profits. It is not a stretch to envision the same tactics being applied to the marijuana industry. The opportunity is here, and it’s real, and the possibilities are endless.

Cannabis in History

Mention marijuana to the average American, and you’re likely to conjure images of kids at Woodstock or teenage stoners toking in their parents’ basements. But cannabis has been used — as both a recreational drug and medicine — for tens of thousands of years, starting in Central and South Asia. In Romania, charred cannabis seeds were discovered in a ritual brazier (a bowl or box typically used for burning fuel) dating back to the third millennium BCE. Ancient mummies, from China to Egypt, have been found alongside leaf fragments and seeds, showing evidence of cannabis consumption in some. Like many products made from herbs and flowers, the use of cannabis is an age old remedy “for what ails ya.”

Cannabis is a flowering plant genus (of three known types) that is known world-wide, and the drug that we know as cannabis or marijuana has many different names, depending on the locale. The ancient Hindus of India and Nepal called it ganjika — scholars still dispute whether it’s connected with the drug soma, which was mentioned in the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. The Aryans introduced it to the Assyrians, who came to know it as qunubu, or “way to produce smoke, ” as well as to the Scythians, Thracians, and Dacians. The shamans in many of these cultures used the drug in their religious ceremonies and to induce trances. Archaeologists at Pazyryk, the Altai Mountain Region of southwestern Siberia, have found evidence of the consumption of hemp seeds as a religious sacrament (which matched reports by ancient Greek historian Herodotus). It also became a staple of some Sufi orders of Islam during the Mamluk period, nearly one thousand years ago.

The first two drafts of the United States Declaration of Independence were written on paper made from hemp.Curiously enough, a 2001 study published in the South African Journal of Science revealed that two dozen clay pipes dug up from the garden of William Shakespeare contained traces of cannabis. It is speculated that Shakespeare’s references to “noted weed” and “journey in my head” of Sonnets 76 and 27, respectively, might point to his use of the drug.Cannabis made its way to North America, where nineteenth-century author John Gregory Bourke noted in The Medicine Men of the Apache the use of mariguan — Cannabis indica, or Indian hemp — by the Mexican residents of the Rio Grande Region of Texas. In writings dating back to 1894, he describes the ways in which mariguan treated asthma, eased women through childbirth, and kept away witches and evil spirits. It was rolled into cigarettes or added to mescal (a colorless alcohol akin to tequila) and was often taken with sugar to supposedly enhance the effects. Bourke also mentioned that mariguan was also known as “loco weed, ” and likened it to hasheesh... “one of the greatest curses of the East, ” which he believed made its users “become maniacs... apt to commit all sorts of acts of violence and murder”.

From 1850 to 1942, marijuana was listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia as a useful medicine for nausea, rheumatism, and labor pains and was easily obtained at the local general store or pharmacy.Not long afterward, cannabis was criminalized in countries around the world, including the United States. The sale of the drug was first restricted in Washington, DC, in 1906. The Marihuana Tax Act was passed in 1937, prohibiting the production of the drug. Around the same time, the “dangers” of marijuana use were dramatized in the propaganda film Reefer Madness (originally titled Tell Your Children), in which formerly clean-cut teenagers get high, hit pedestrians with cars, commit suicide, and eventually go mad.As we all know from pop culture, marijuana was embraced by the counterculture of the late 1960s, and its use became far more widespread. By the 1970s, state laws and local regulations that banned the sale and possession of cannabis were beginning to be abolished, thanks in part to the 1969 ruling in Leary v. United States, which deemed the Marihuana Tax Act unconstitutional. In the 1970s, Nixon declared the War on Drugs — calling drug abuse “public enemy number one” — and labeled cannabis a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive category. By the end of the decade, however, a fifth of the country had already decriminalized possession. Nixon dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies, and pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants. Nixon temporarily placed marijuana in Schedule I, the most restrictive category of drugs, pending review by a commission he appointed, led by Republican Pennsylvania Governor, Raymond Shafer. In 1972, the commission unanimously recommended decriminalizing the possession and distribution of marijuana for personal use. He ignored the report and rejected its recommendations.

FACTHarry Anslinger, the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 until 1962, is responsible for spreading anti-marijuana myths and starting a national movement against weed. He said the only marijuana smokers in the US were mostly Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers... their Satanic music, jazz and swing resulted from marijuana use. This marijuana caused women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any other types of hoodlums.Between 1973 and 1977, however, eleven states decriminalized marijuana possession. In January 1977, President Jimmy Carter was inaugurated on a campaign platform that included marijuana decriminalization. In October 1977, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use. Nixon’s private war on the use of drugs and his obsession with marijuana regulations were quickly losing their foothold amongst other political parties.

All through the 1980s, the comedy duo of Cheech and Chong made a living satirizing the use of marijuana. Their groundbreaking movies helped develop a new public awareness and alter an entire generation’s view on “smoking a ‘j’, ” “rolling a joint, ” “doing a doobie, ” and the ramifications of the illegality of marijuana. This simple-minded comedy made light of the use of marijuana in a time when many people in the United States viewed marijuana use as a major offense. Successful beyond their wildest dreams, their hilarious irreverent, satirical, pot-smoking culture, no-holds-barred comedy skits about pot smoking hippies moved nine hit comedy albums and eight films to number one, breaking box office records, shattering comedy album sales and garnering multiple Grammy nominations, mesmerizing fans for over a decade.The end of the Vietnam conflict brought home many American soldiers looking to self-medicate their post-traumatic stress symptoms with the help of marijuana. For many of these Vets, marijuana meant life. It allowed them to cope, sleep and manage the demons of war.

When the Reagans entered the White House, their “Just Say No!” campaign took over the nation the federal government began to crack down, with more and more marijuana arrests. But as the hysteria wound down, advocates began to speak up for sensible drug reform.In 1992, then Governor Clinton said he “never denied” smoking marijuana. “I didn’t say I was holier than thou, I said I tried. I never denied that used marijuana.” Of his Rhodes Scholar years, Clinton has said, “When I was in England, experimented with marijuana a time or two and didn’t like it.” That became the now infamous statement: “I didn’t inhale.” This undoubtedly opened the eyes of many Americans — if the president tried it, then how bad can it be? Why shouldn’t I?

In 1996, Proposition 215 — which allowed for medical use of marijuana — passed in California. Since then, twenty different states, as well as Washington, DC, have passed similar laws. The report from High Times magazine, January 2014, also claims that the five-year national market has the potential to balloon to $10.2 billion—a more than 700% increase above the current value. This growth will come from both increased demand in existing state markets and new venues in the fourteen states that are expected to have legalized recreational marijuana sales by then. Specifically, the report predicts that within five years Alaska, Oregon, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Hawaii, Maine, Missouri, Massachusetts, Nevada, Arizona California, and Delaware will have legalized marijuana for adults.

In 2012, the United Nations revealed 2010 statistics in its Global Drug Report: cannabis was the world’s most widely produced, trafficked, and consumed drug, with an estimated 119 to 224 million adult users.In November 2013, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana. As of this publishing, legalization efforts are taking place in many other states, including Alaska, Arizona, Maryland, and New York.Times are truly changing — and changing fast — for this controversial plant.

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