Cannabis Capitalism: Who is Making Money in the Cannabis Industry?

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Cannabis capitalism: who is making money in the marijuana industry? The future looks green – but who benefits? Illustration: George Wylesol for the Guardian Marginalized groups that championed legalization struggle to compete with corporate refugees jumping on the bandwagon

Two hours north of San Francisco, in Mendocino county, orderly roadside vineyards give way to the rugged forests and misty coast of the Emerald Triangle, America’s most celebrated marijuana growing region. In June, more than 300 cannabis industry insiders gathered there for a weekend of bonfires, starlit hikes and river swims.

Canada, true to form, has moved to legalize marijuana in a more orderly fashion than the US, with legalization day set for 17 October. The industry there perhaps gives their counterparts in the US a vision of the future.

In Canada, a handful of companies already dominate the cannabis market. And a few weeks after Meadow Lands, a very different marijuana industry gathering took place at a big glass hotel in central Vancouver.

The opening party took place in a smoke-free ballroom. The keynote speaker was Henry Rollins, the legendary punk rocker known for his association with the straight edge culture, who doesn’t consume cannabis himself. His message to the International Cannabis Business Conference was that the industry shouldn’t be too greedy. But he wasn’t fooling anybody.

“It’s the suits taking over,” Carolyn Cudmore, the founder of the Vancouver craft company the Preroll Factory, said.

Marijuana insiders often refer to the “cannabis space” – a term broad enough to include a social justice movement and unapologetic capitalism – and recognize no contradiction between them.

In a “shark tank”-style competition, four startups made presentations before representatives of Canopy Rivers, the investment arm of Canopy Growth, one of Canada’s largest marijuana companies, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange. The prize was billed as up to C$1m (US$763,000) in seed capital, though the winner wasn’t guaranteed anything.

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