“If you have a passion—any passion—we need advocates and allies. If you’re a baker, we need bakers. If you’re a lawyer, we need lawyers. Anyone who has empathy for people who need weed, and is driven, is welcome in the marijuana industry,” says Lisa Harun, co-founder of Vapium, a Canadian cannabis vape-maker. “There’s still so much opportunity.”
Indeed, the marijuana industry seems set to explode. This week, Arcview Market Research announced that in 2016, the legal weed market in North America generated $6.7 billion, up 30% from 2015, when marijuana was the second-biggest growth industry in the US (after peer-to-peer lending platforms).
Washington DC, and 28 states have passed laws, with various caveats, allowing medical marijuana use. As of this month, recreational cannabis is legal in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and DC. Possession has been decriminalized in 13 states. Overall, more than 20% of adult Americans now have access to weed, medically or recreationally.
Marijuana projects are cropping up all over the US, and beyond. In Massachusetts, a cannabis business park covering more than a million square feet is planned for construction. In California, some marketers offer monthly luxury mail subscriptions to the upscale cannabis consumer, while others cater to the elderly whose weed needs are unique. One company in California has a subsidiary business in Mexico, which will sell its medicinal marijuana products there and plans to expand to Colombia. In Israel, the Health Ministry has approved cannabis inhalers for use in hospitals this year.
Harun was manufacturing robotic toys before she considered cannabis as a business. In 2012, she was living in Hong Kong and her interest was piqued when her partner, Vapium co-founder Michael Trzecieski, an engineer, was called into a factory they worked with to assist on an e-cigarette fix. He came back and proposed they shift their business model, from toys to e-cigs.
“But we’re anti-tobacco,” Harun notes, and not opposed to marijuana. “Canadians have had a medical marijuana program since the 1990s. I grew up knowing adults who smoked weed,” she explains. “It’s medically recommended for 200 conditions, and it could help a lot of people who are popping pills right now.”
After more than a year of research and development, in early 2014, Vapium released its first device and there’s no going back for Harun or the company. She was a little nervous to talk to her “elders” about the new manufacturing plans at first, explaining, “I do a pulse check before launching any conversation.” But everyone’s been surprisingly receptive, from her 12-year-old nephew—who no longer gets free robotic toys from conventions—to her 85-year-old great aunt, who expressed hope that the cannabis vaporizers find use in every home.
Harun believes the increasing recognition of weed as therapy makes it ever-easier to get into the industry. She suggests that anyone who is interested consider either applying an existent passion to the developing marijuana market—like law or baking, say—or for those who don’t know what they love yet, use this trick to figure out a way in: “Think of a problem you want to solve and the people who suffer from it—even something simple like stress, or menstrual pain—and consider how cannabis could be or is being used to address it.”