In an ideal world, influential faces and figures wouldn’t have any influence whatsoever on pot legislation. The reason being that rather than a subject of propaganda, campaigning and persuasive tactics on both sides, the decisions would be made in accordance with facts. With evidence. With the truth. But this just isn’t the case at all – we refer you back to a prior article you may or may not have checked out by now, in which the anti-pot camp in Massachusetts made it clear that the truth was of no interest to them. If you haven’t watched the video, go do it now. That is, if you’ve got a strong stomach – it’s not easy to get through without barfing!

Back to the point, those with fame and influence are once again playing a key role in their efforts to push the public one way or another on November 8. When nine North American states go to the polls, you can bet your bottom dollar that tens of millions will vote in accordance with what they’ve been told and indeed told to do. So it’s always at least modestly reassuring when a super-influential figure speaks out in favour of cannabis legalization.

Billionaire Blunts

Richard Branson Medical Cannabis

Richard Branson Supports Medical Cannabis

In this instance, we’re of course referring once again to billionaire and tech guru Richard Branson. Having appeared before an audience of about 1,000 cannabis supporters last week, he bluntly told the lot of them that he was in the mood for “a spliff or two”. Not only this, but he proclaimed…quite rightly…that much of the rest of the world share his thoughts, cravings and opinions.

He was talking to the crowds at “The future of Cannabis, Now” conference in San Francisco, when the Virgin Group founder simply asked the obvious question – “why not?” He wasn’t there in person, but instead appeared via a live Skype video link. Branson is known to be one of the most outspoken cannabis advocates in the world and has, since 2011, been working with 15 former world leaders and former United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan on the Global Commission on Drug Policy. This incredibly high-profile and knowledgeable group have been calling for both the decriminalization and legalization of cannabis on a global basis.

“That’s the only way of sorting out the problems that come with drugs by not regulating and leaving it up to the underworld to supply drugs,” he told the crowd in attendance.

“Our commission has worked really quite hard on that. We’ve had some successes and some massive failures, we’re going to keep going until we get governments to see otherwise.”

Branson has mentioned dozens of times over recent years that he believes decriminalization is the only way forward for cannabis policy. But while legalization was of course a key topic of interest, the event itself primarily focused on the kinds of new technologies that will play a role in the up and coming legal cannabis industry in America. The industry is already worth billions of dollars and that’s before the next nine states take cannabis to the ballot box this November.

If cannabis is legalized across multiple additional states, which seems more than likely, the industry could immediately double, triple or even quadruple in size. One marketing executive for WeedWeek, Adrienne Nascimento, stated that the significance of Branson repeatedly adding his name to those campaigning for new cannabis policy couldn’t be overlooked.

“It’s huge,” she said.

“This is a wellness industry and Richard Branson shows how this business is evolving.”

Event Evolution

Visitors at a Cannabis conference

Visitors at a Cannabis conference

Even over the course of a single year, the evolution of the event itself has been enormous. Last year saw the conference’s first ever outing attract a few hundred people to a small ballroom and it all went down without a great deal of fanfare. This year, more than a thousand packed out the main spaces in the same hotel, presenting over 30 panel discussions and featuring dozens of information booths. Those interested in gaining entry to the fledgling weed-focused technology game are right now in prime position to beat the rest to the punch.

The reason being that with legislation remaining as outdated as it is at a federal level, the vast majority of big brands still aren’t willing to enter the weed world. This, despite the fact that Microsoft has made clear its intent to throw its own hat into the ring soon enough.

One example of the kind of technology being showcased at the event was a computer algorithm that had been programmed to help cannabis farmers achieve the maximum possible yields and consistently bigger buds. Another was a device created to capture up to 99.7% of the sun’s spectrum, in order to be used to grow indoor plants more successfully. Along with this, attendees were free to browse the usual array of cannabis-infused goodies and topical treatments, the likes of which are slowly but surely becoming the backbone of the legal cannabis industry.

Booming Bud Business

Cannabis businesses are booming

Cannabis businesses are booming

Regardless of where you happen to stand personally on the whole weed debate, the simple fact of the matter is that it is and will continue to be very big business. It may be illegal at a federal level, but it’s already permitted for medical use in half of the country – 25 states exactly. Just four states – Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington – have so far given the green light to recreational cannabis so far, but again this is 100% guaranteed to increase going forwards.

You really only need to look at the situation in California to gain a true understanding of the size and scale of what’s happening. Not only is California home to more Americans than any other US state, but it also has a GDP of around $2.5 trillion. This makes it the sixth biggest economy in the entire world. And come the beginning of next month, recreational cannabis could be legalized state-wide.

As far as analysts and experts are concerned, the latest estimates suggest that the total cannabis industry in the United States is worth about $7.2 billion and has seen growth of near 30% annually. By the time the end of the decade currently runs around it could be worth more than $20.5 billion. And let’s not forget, that’s all taxable cash that pumps billions back in the country every year, while taking the same cash directly out of the pockets of criminal networks.

From a business perspective, the bud boom is just too big and significant to ignore. In fact, cannabis represents one of the fastest-growing industries in the history of the United States. During 2015, somewhere in the region of $360 million was pumped into new cannabis business ventures by investors. More than $137 million has so far been invested in start-ups this year, which is of course expected to spike massively following the November vote.

Either way, when you consider that less than $7 million was invested in the industry back in 2012, the change is nothing short of spectacular.

Innovation is also proving to be a springboard for brands looking to make a name for themselves, with data having shown that cannabis concentrates are outpacing the flower category and edibles are gaining serious ground on both.

Hanging in the Balance
Canabis Leaf

Despite all of the above, we still find ourselves in a position where the vote could technically go either way come November 8. It’s remarkable, but even in states where the vote taking place concerns medical cannabis only, there’s incredible strong opposition. What’s anything but remarkable, however, is the way in which much of the opposition is coming from big pharma – companies that would rather keep making millions by flooding the streets with deadly opiates than all patients to get their hand on safe and effective cannabis.

We just have to hope that common sense prevails. That, and the influence of big names like Branson.