Who's cashing in on legal cannabis?

A wave of decriminalisation is creating business opportunities...

Who's cashing in on legal cannabis?

Matilde Campodonico AP/Press Association Images

Cannabis could soon be legally available in Ireland for medical purposes. TDs are set to debate a bill today allowing doctors to prescribe the drug to those with serious illnesses. Internationally a trend towards cannabis legalisation and decriminalisation is creating a host of business opportunities.

Investors are pumping money into businesses linked to the recreational use of the substance and betting that the easing of laws around the drug will continue.

This chart from CB Insights - a research firm which specialises in emerging industries, venture capital and startups - highlights some of the early leaders in the legal marijuana market. They range from subscription delivery services to social networks and specialist branding companies.

The market is expected to grow to be a $50bn industry by 2020 - according to 10 Cowen & Co analysts. It estimates that the US market is already worth $6bn.

"Cannabis prohibition has been in place for 80-plus years, but the tides are clearly turning," the report comments.

As is, it is legal to use the herb for recreational use in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia - legal use in California is also on the way while it is medically permitted in 25 other US states. 

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Larger firms have been cautious to put money into the industry - it could be an obvious area for tobacco companies to move into if a trend against traditional 'smoking' fueled by health concerns and the rise of e-cigarettes hurts their bottom-lines.

Cowen's report thinks that existing tobacco companies will make up one fifth of the legal 'weed' market in 20 years.

As the industry expands it is likely that the firms who are enjoying success at the moment will face a wave of consolidations and buy-outs as companies with deeper pockets move in looking to profit on the boom in the industry.

"Just like we see in the microbrew and wine industries, there will always be a place for craft, artisan, and small market flavors ... The problem is how many of these things can compete on a shelf," executive director of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance told Wired.

Interestingly, leaked documents in the US show that alcohol representative groups have been lobbying against the relaxing of cannabis laws as it could offer an alternative to their products.

Marley Natural is one of the first brands to publicly announce its ambitions to become a global cannabis brand. The company is being backed by Privateer Holdings, a New York private equity firm who specialise in "strategic investments in the cannabis industry" and hope "to acquire and create mainstream brands, professionalising the cannabis business landscape through the power of private enterprise."

The company got the Marley family on board to licence the use of Bob Marley’s image to promote their brand. They also have a logo designed by Heckler Associates, the same company who came up with the Starbucks’ ‘mermaid’ logo and design all of the coffee-giant’s packaging.

Hip Hop artist Snoop Dogg also have his own cannabis company, Leafs by Snoop.