Just this week, Congress axed a plan to legalize marijuana in the District of Columbia. But no fear - this is an anomaly. Just look at the numbers. According to this Wikipedia entry, marijuana is completely legal in four states, approved for medical use in nine states and decriminalized in fourteen states. Marijuana is illegal (or a felony) in just six states. The rest of the country considers it a misdemeanor. According to this report, experts are predicting that the size of the national market for legalized cannabis will exceed $14 billion.
"Marijuana is no joke," comedian Tommy Chong told me. And he should know. Back in the day when smoking grass was considered taboo Chong and his partner Cheech Marin became famous making albums and movies that centered around one basic activity: getting high. And now, Chong is back again to make even more money from marijuana. And this time it's no joke. At 76 years old, Chong is adding entrepreneur to his resume as he launches a namesake new line of medicinal marijuana called CHONG STAR and is also releasing Tommy Chong's Smoke Swipes which instantly rids clothes and hair of smoky smells from cigars, cigarettes and cannabis.
Chong is a celebrity in the pot world, and has been for decades. He can capitalize off his name. But there's something else that drives him as an activist and supporter of marijuana legalization. It's a strong belief that should be foremost on the mind of an entrepreneur who may want to get into this or any other controversial business. The belief that what you're doing is good. In Chong's case, it's his conviction that recreational marijuana is good. For everyone.
"I consider all pot to be medicinal," Chong says. He's not just talking about how pot has helped people throughout history with a myriad of afflictions from glaucoma to mental illness to body pains. Its recreational value also provides a medical value because "recreation is a medical term." According to Chong, all people need recreation to balance out their work lives. And recreation comes in many forms - vacations, physical activity, going to bars and yes, even smoking weed. Recreation is a medical necessity to life. And marijuana is just part of that cure for those who may want it.
Chong has profited from this belief. But he's also suffered too. Back in 2003, he spent nine months in prison for distributing thousands of bongs and marijuana pipes online through his California company, Nice Dreams Enterprises. That experience only increased his advocacy for pot legalization.
Maybe there's an opportunity for you in the marijuana business? It's certainly an industry that's not only growing, but on the cusp of exploding. There will be a need for better farmers, more equipment, new technology, reliable transportation firms, experienced legal and environmental experts let alone all the indirect businesses that profit from a growing industry. But getting into the pot business is still very much a challenge, even as acceptance has widened. The use of marijuana suffers from decades of racial and social stereotyping, claims of addiction, banking restrictions, studies showing its potential harmful side effects, and a powerful pharmaceutical, tobacco and alcohol industry lobby that views it as competition.
Like Chong, the entrepreneurs who are succeeding in this industry, or any new and/or controversial industry (think oil from shale, guns, abortion clinics, legalized prostitution) always go into their business with something more than just making money. They go into it with a mission. A purpose. A belief system that they can always fall back on when the opposition grows loud or the days grow dark. For Chong it's the joy he feels when he sees people with medical ailments lining up to get relief through marijuana. Or even when two people relax after a hard work day with a joint. This is something good. This is what he believes. And that's the kind of belief you'll need to survive in this, and any other controversial business.
A version of this blog previously appeared on Inc.com.