The Wild West of weed is on fire with entrepreneurial opportunities. Potpreneurs across America are legally growing, curing and cooking the skunky stuff in record numbers. As those who cultivate and sell the plant grow, so do the offshoot businesses sprouting up around them.
Kristopher Fowlkes, founder and CEO of Pinnacle Consultation, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based consulting firm that helps marijuana farmers streamline and increase yields, says ancillary cannabis startups are popping up across America mainly for two reasons. One, they’re generally less risky than growing and distributing pot from a legal standpoint. And, two, traditional businesses, such as banks, still don’t want to touch those who directly touch the controversial plant. After all, pot’s stigma, like its stink, is strong and hard to get rid of, though forward strides are being made every day.
“Small-business people are swooping in where the big guys won’t,” Fowlkes tells Entrepreneur. “They’re coming up with anything and everything at this point, even taking out grow-house garbage to get in on the trend. It’s wild the type of entrepreneurship that the cannabis industry has created, and we’re only just scratching the surface.”
With marijuana now legal in some form in 25 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, and legal at the recreational level in four states, opportunities to make greenbacks on the booming cash crop abound. Here are six business ideas for people looking to cash in on the multi-billion-dollar green rush, but not looking to grow or dispense:
Cannabis-friendly bed and breakfast
Startup costs: $30,000 to $40,000
Equipment needed: Private residence to rent or buy, reservations software system, computers, phones, furniture, linens
The idea for a cannabis-friendly bed and breakfast came to Joel Schneider in the bathroom -- a hotel bathroom. “I was hiding in there, smoking a joint, blowing the smoke into the toilet and constantly flushing," he says. "I knew I was far from the only one doing this and I didn’t want to hide anymore, so I started my own lodging business where it’s OK -- and legal -- to smoke pot on the premises.”
In 2014, the veteran lawyer and New York native made his pipe dream a reality with Bud and Breakfast. It’s a rented private home-based bed and breakfast in Denver. There, guests aged 21 and older can puff or vape cannabis products or nibble on THC-infused edibles from their own legally-sourced stashes, he says, in living and dining rooms and patios.
Schneider, who says he has smoked pot since he was 14, now operates a total of three bed and breakfast locations in the Centennial State, with 22 rooms in all. In addition to renting rooms for between $149 and $399 a night (depending on the location), each sells marijuana paraphernalia, including glass pipes, bongs and rolling papers, to guests. Complimentary candy and other snacks, such as granola, are placed around the premises to “satisfy guests’ munchies.”
“What we’ve learned is that, as the cannabis culture is very communal, our guests love to share,” Schneider says. “You don’t pass a cocktail around. You pass a joint. That’s what makes us unique. No one is locked in their room smoking alone and feeling paranoid. They’re enjoying marijuana in a safe haven the way it was meant to be enjoyed -- together.”
He’s also learned that lodgers often smoke up more before they check out, mainly because it’s illegal to travel across state lines or by air with legal weed. “Let’s just say there’s a lot of waking and baking going on here,” he says.
There's enough of that happening to earn Schneider approximately a million dollars in revenue a year, he says. Eventually, he hopes to franchise Bud and Breakfast. His advice to those considering jumping into the burgeoning cannabis-friendly lodging industry: “Don’t think for one second that just because you open up that people are going to make your place a destination they go out of their way to go to. You must be located in a tourist area. Location, location, location holds true.”
He also cautions against hiring all-out stoners. “You’ll burn through a lot of staff if you don’t make it clear to them that they have to be broken from that," he says. "That they’re not just stoners, but they're going to have to be responsible and do the job you hired them to do.”
Schneider says it’s difficult to estimate the total cost to start up his hospitality business, as he launched it with $100,000 and was wiped out within a week, then had to raise more funds. Still, he estimates that, to do it right, those who aspire to do what he does, renting homes and converting them into bed and breakfasts, might need as little as $30,000 to $40,000 to start. Somewhere in that range should cover first and last month’s rent, furniture, a reservations software system, a website and basic renovations, if needed, he says.
Bud and Breakfast isn’t Schneider’s first marijuana-focused business. Before diving into the lodging arena, he published his own marijuana-focused newspaper, the now defunct Mile-High Times. He’s confident he’ll have a much longer, stronger run with his latest cannabis venture.
“I believe in what we’re doing," he says. "We’re helping people come out of hiding and, believe me, they’re ready to.”
Cannabis-friendly painting classes
Startup costs: $2,000
Equipment needed: Paint, paint brushes, canvases, easels, marketing materials
Sometimes the best business ideas begin as a joke. Such was the case with Heidi Keyes’s Puff Pass and Paint. Launched in 2014, the Denver-based painting class lets customers, you guessed it, puff and pass a joint, or a bowl or a bong or what have you, while getting in touch with their inner Picasso, one brushstroke at a time.
“My friend joked and said to me, ‘You know those wine and painting places?’ You should do that with cannabis,’” says Keyes, who has a degree in fine arts and has long worked as a professional artist. She mulled the kush concept over, then conducted an informal poll on her Facebook page asking who might be interested in taking a pot-friendly painting class. The response was overwhelming, she says. "Classes booked up immediately and before I knew it we had a huge waiting list.”
With demand high from the start, Keyes quickly expanded from Oregon to Washington D.C. and Oregon, two other areas where recreational marijuana is also legal. She began with groups of eight students and now offers classes for up to 25 people at a time. Now, around 150 people participate in classes every week across all of Keyes's locations.
Keyes and her employees provide the paint, paintbrushes and canvases. Their customers, ages 21 and older, BYOC -- bring their own cannabis. They also bring their munchies and sometimes beer and wine.
Prices for the two-hour painting and puffing sessions range from $49 to $64 per person. As for what it cost for Keyes to start up, she pegs her initial investment, paid for out of her own pocket, around $2,000. She points out that renting spaces for classes is not included in her estimate.
Anyone considering starting a business like hers must be intimately aware of the local legal marijuana business and consumption zoning laws where they plan to operate, as pot will be consumed during classes. Laws vary from state to state and at the county and city level. Being that Keyes doesn’t grow, sell or distribute marijuana, she doesn’t, however, need any special licenses.
“There’s so much legal red tape that it’s important to speak to a lawyer before you start,” Keyes cautions. “Make sure you’re fully aware of the laws and respect them so we can advance the legalization movement, legitimize it and keep the momentum going.”
Looking forward, Keyes hopes to franchise Puff Pass and Paint. “I think we’re onto something here," she says. "We let people experience both cannabis and creativity, pot and painting. They kind of do pair well together.”
Bud and Blossoms
Startup costs: $1,500
Equipment needed: Flowers, vases, floral wire, tape, foam and other floral design tools and embellishments
Bec Koop never planned to turn her love of bud and blooms into a business. It just sort of happened organically.
Her eco-friendly startup, Buds and Blossoms, was born in 2014 out of what she calls an “aha moment.” The entrepreneurial lightbulb originally went off in 2013, when the Centennial, Colo.-based florist was trimming her personal marijuana plant. “I had some leftover flowers from a floral event, and I thought, ‘If I put roses around some of the cannabis, it could work,’ and it did," she says. "It was one of those creative stoner moments that actually panned out.”
The result: Buds and Blossoms, a “wedding weed” and special event florist run out of Koop’s home design studio. She specializes in marijuana-enhanced floral arrangements. The pot nugs she artfully tucks in and around delicate sprays of flowers, table centerpieces and “ bud-tonnieres” are provided by clients and can be smoked.
“The wedding industry is so conservative. I came in as the green -- not black -- sheep because no one has the guts to do this,” she tells Entrepreneur. “Nobody else was doing it when I started, so there was a hole in the market and I was loud and proud about jumping in. I helped couples who wanted to partake in cannabis at their wedding, straight from their bouquets to their bowls.”
During her first summer in business, Koop created ganja-studded “smokeable” bouquets for two weddings in Colorado, where use of recreational and medical marijuana is legal at the state level. The following year, she prepared bud bouquets for six weddings. This year, she’s already provided her unique services to nine cannabis-loving couples, with more to come.
Koop, a former pot dispensary “budtender,” still runs a traditional floral company, though she keeps it completely separate from her cannabis floral business, “so as not to scare off any mainstream clients.” As the stigma around marijuana fades away, she says she expects Buds and Blossoms to “eventually outweigh” her traditional business.
As for what’s required to start, Koop says no special licenses are required as long as she doesn’t carry more than Colorado’s legal limit. Her clients legally purchase the cannabis they want displayed in their bouquets and provide her with a receipt as proof.
Her advice to those looking to break into the nascent cannabist florist niche is to know and follow your local marijuana laws to a T. “The regulations change almost on a weekly basis,” she says. “Remember that the only constant in the cannabis business is change. If you do one thing wrong in the eyes of the law, you could not only be out of business, but you’ll put a black eye on an industry that needs as much positivity as it can get right now.”
She also suggests aspiring pot florists avoid using fresh marijuana leaves and clippings in arrangements. “They look so pretty, but they wilt incredibly faster than the dried, cured stuff.”
The cost to start was minimal, Koop says, and included “very basic standard” floral supplies, as well as expenses for website design and legal consultation. Having prior floral arrangement experience is not a must, but certainly helps, she says. So is possessing a working knowledge of different cannabis strains. “You also need to have a sense of which types of wedding and event venues are OK with having cannabis on the premises," she says. "You don’t want it to end up in the wrong hands, like a minor’s. There’s a lot to consider.”
Cannabis-themed bike tours
Business type: Cannabis-themed bike tours
Startup costs: $20,000
Equipment needed: Rental bikes and helmets, bike locks, bike maintenance tools, office equipment, rain capes
For outdoorsy types who enjoy biking and cannabis-counterculture, leading marijuana-themed bike tours can be a fun, active way to exercise, do what you love and make money doing it. With marijuana legalization and use on the rise throughout the U.S., more and more pot-themed bicycle tours are winding their way through locales where the drug is legal. (Bear in mind, though, that neither medical nor recreational pot is legal at the federal level).
Avid bicyclist Todd Roll launched a cannabis-focused bike tour in Portland, Ore., in October 2015 through his company, Pedal Bike Tours. The $69 three-hour Portland Pot Tour tour is led by a trained guide familiar with the City of Roses and its flowering cannabis culture. The fee includes a rental bike and an ice cream cone at the end of the tour, but no nugs. Though Pedal’s cannabis tours once featured joints for passing around amongst riders, marijuana is no longer provided or consumed during the laidback spins through one of America’s most bike-friendly cities.
While they can’t toke up and pedal, being that public consumption of marijuana is illegal in the Beaver State, tour participants are treated to a close up look at legal, licensed pot dispensaries, including Gras and Canabliss. The tour also stops at popular head (pot paraphernalia) shops and a boutique that sells intricately carved wooden pipes and hand-blown glass chillums.
“There’s a pretty low barrier to entering this type of business,” Roll says. “But we never saw it as a huge financial slam dunk, not like dispensaries pulling in millions. We saw it as a ‘Hey, this can be done and therefore it should be.' We’re showing that this taboo product is worth a second look. It’s far less lethal than tobacco and alcohol and yet here we are defanging the monster it’s made out to be, one relaxed ride at a time.”
Apart from basic business licensing and establishing federal and state tax identification numbers, no additional licensing was required, as Roll neither sells nor dispenses marijuana. Riders can, however, purchase marijuana from the dispensaries they visit on the tour, for later consumption.
“We’re a tiny niche that’s easy to break into,” Roll says. “There’s still not a lot of competition and I anticipate that we’ll grow more as cannabis becomes more accepted. More people will be willing to take the pot tour instead of giggling about it.”
On-demand medical marijuana delivery service
Startup costs: $400,000 to $600,000
Equipment needed: App development software, office supplies, computers
In the fall of 2012, former Microsoft executive Keith McCarty saw a “once in a lifetime opportunity” coming into view and taking shape, like smoke on the horizon.
On-demand transportation services such as Uber and Lyft were rising in popularity, as was mainstream acceptance of medical marijuana. By July 2014, the Silicon Valley tech startup veteran took the green leap. He launched Eaze, an app-driven medical pot dispensary-to-door service. His goal: to become “the Uber of marijuana delivery.” Since then, the San Francisco-based company, now flush with upwards of an estimated $20 million in venture capital, has chauffeured bud to more than 100,000 card-carrying medical marijuana patients in “roughly 100” California cities.
“There’s a lot of room for innovation and differentiation with what we’re doing that doesn’t exist in other business categories within the cannabis industry,” McCarty says. “Because of direct access to patients, you can become their voice in a fragmented industry with a large stigma attached to it. You can have an early and cascading impact in a post-prohibition future, particularly if you are passionate about getting it right.”
Other than a standard business license, no special licenses are required to operate Eaze, McCarty says. That’s because his company provides the app and technological rails that deliveries run on, not the pot itself. The app houses the signup flow to onboard new medical marijuana patient users. It also provides the directions and predictive analytics that help drivers get where they need to go. Eaze also handles patient verification, ordering and customer service through the app.
In the same way that Uber drivers are not employees, Eaze drivers are not employed by Eaze. They are employed by licensed medical marijuana dispensaries that contract with Eaze. Drivers earn up to $16 an hour making runs, not counting tips. Dispensaries pay Eaze monthly fees to list their drivers on the service. Eaze declined to share those fees with Entrepreneur.
In terms of training needed to start a business like his, McCarty says an “advanced knowledge of apps, technology and data” and an “advanced knowledge of cannabis laws, rules and regulations” are required. Of course, knowing how to successfully design, develop and launch an app in the Apple App Store and Google Play is imperative as well.
Starting an on-demand service like Eaze isn’t cheap. For starters, you’ll need considerable amounts of cash to cover extensive legal consultation, staffing and marketing, along with app design and development.
Cannabis industry consulting
Startup costs: $5,000
Equipment needed: Varies depending on your skill set and the services you offer.
Corey Hollister is co-founder and CEO of American Cannabis Company, a Denver-based consulting firm that helps commercial cannabis cultivation startups with everything from design and build-out, branding and marketing, to regulatory compliance and beyond. Formerly a corporate advertising professional, Hollister segued to greener pastures when he felt it was “the right time, the right place.”
He recognized the potential to earn some serious green of another kind in what has exploded into a $4 billion legal marijuana market, by his estimate. “There is tremendous growth opportunity in converting the $60 billion black marijuana market into a regulated market, and it will take a lot of human capital,” Hollister says.
So far, he’s fared well at capitalizing on the kush rush, clocking a gross revenue $1.2 million in his second year in business and $2.7 million in the third, he tells Entrepreneur.
Four years into running his company, Hollister says he continues to be surprised by the number of successful, high profile marijuana smokers who can’t wait to jump into the burgeoning cannabis consulting space, doctors and lawyers among them.
If you begin with a home-based business, he says an investment of somewhere in the ballpark of $5,000 should cover starting up as a cannabis consultant. That should cover insurance, business cards, a telephone and computer, and the design and implementation of a website to market your services. No special business license is required.
“To be successful in this realm, you will need an in-demand skill set,” Hollister says. “The needs of the space are complex and diverse. People with backgrounds ranging from legal, security, horticulture and other varied sciences have successfully entered the cannabis arena. If you offer something most businesses need, cannabis-businesses will most likely need it as well.”