With 28 states legalizing medical marijuana and eight going one step further with legal recreational use, the cannabis business is booming. But since the drug isn’t yet federally legal, there are still bureaucratic roadblocks for investors looking to go legit on the weed-equivalent of Wall Street.
One barrier weed advocates and entrepreneurs encounter is the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) classification of the drug. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, or “substances, or chemicals defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the federal government. This groups weed with more serious and dangerous drugs like LSD, ecstasy, and heroin. However, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse issued a series of reports concluding that marijuana was “less a serious threat to public health than a sensitive social issue and recommended changes to federal law that would permit citizens to possess a small amount of it at a time, while still maintaining that the drug should not be legalized.” Weed's mis-classification poses restrictions for patients in non-weed-friendly states who are seeking marijuana to treat serious illnesses. Its Schedule-I title also puts a damper on investors’ plans: The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)—the chief regulator of Wall Street—blocked a S-1 filing from weed companies attempting to go public and trade stock until the drug is re-scheduled.
Despite these challenges, the economic potential of the blossoming cannabis industry may be worthwhile. If you’re willing to risk it all for a career in weed, check out this advice from Khadijah Adams, the founder and CEO of Cannabis consulting company MIPR Holdings. Complex talked to the entrepreneur about how to invest in the weed industry:
Can you explain what "the green rush" is?
The green rush is referred to as the beginning of recreational cannabis. Kind of like the Gold Rush where people discovered gold, where they came searching and seeking, rushing to find it. Colorado legalized recreational cannabis on January 1st 2014, and that was the beginning of the green rush. I actually sold everything in my house, had a garage sale, kept my clothes and cell phone, my computer, loaded up Mercedes and hit the road.
Tell us about the birth of your cannabis consulting company, MIPR holdings.
I met a couple young ladies in the industry and I reached out prior to coming to Colorado by phone and made some calls. They really encouraged me to just get involved in the community and just get to know the people, and get to know the foundation, and how it all started. And that’s what I began to do because I didn't know how I would fit in.
It wasn't until one evening when I had come home and my spouse at the time shared with me that he began adding cannabis stocks to our portfolio. When he shared that with me, a lightbulb went off and I was like, "Marijuana stock, what? Are you kidding me, we have marijuana stocks, there's marijuana stocks?"
I began to do my research and began to be a student of people who had earned money in the industry. I began to give him different companies to invest in and then I opened my own account and began to invest myself. And my story got out there and people began to call me and say, "Can you teach me how to do this? Can you show me the basics?" ... I began to help people, next thing you know, I started MIPR Holdings, Marijuana Investment and Private Retreat. We are a professional consulting service with a focus on investor relations. We help accredited investors and connect them to investment opportunities in the industry. We work with the investors and connect investors to small to mid-sized companies looking for funding and also to investment firms in the cannabis industry. [People who called me] wanted to learn how to invest online from the comfort of their own home. So, that's how I got started. But I also wanted to educate people and warn them about the risks of investing in this industry as well.
What are some of the risks of investing in cannabis stock?
One of the major big risks that most experts would point to is the fact that is cannabis is still illegal and the Feds can come in at any time and shut the whole program down at anytime. So you're taking a risk there—whether you're touching the plant or not. That's why we have classes and education teaching the basics. And we invite people to come in and get the information they need before jumping into cannabis stocks or any investments. We're not financial advisers or brokers or anything like that—I'm an investor just like they are—but it's always good to have someone you can speak to and say hey, is this a good move or not?
What advice would you give to someone looking to invest in the cannabis industry?
I would tell them to buckle up, because they are in for a ride and the surprise of a lifetime. It is a brand new legalized industry. You're going to see a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I can tell you that you better have a big pair of pants and a pair of high boots on. But it is exciting. Get with like-minded individuals that are doing things and going places and making things happen and align yourself with these people, and stay focused. The money will come, but being able to be of service to people in the industry and working to perfect that is key to success. [Be] committed, because this industry is changing every single day.
You have companies that are start-up companies and the OTC Market (over the counter market), [where] you're dealing with a lot of penny stocks ... They are very volatile—there's no liquidity, which means they have no money. They are actually going to the OTC to raise money to pay off early investors; some of them are raising money to avoid bankruptcy. Some of them are raising money to fund their project or products or services or whatever they're offering. And so they don't have a lot of information, they don't have any past history that an investor can look at and say, "Okay, let me see what they did a few years ago and compare it to what they want to do now." So you're taking a big risk on some fairly new companies and some of them are penny stocks—not all of them—but the ones that are, they're big risks.
Before you invest in any company, get as much information about that company as you possibly can ... Find out if they are even a legitimate company ... Who’s the management team, who's running the company? Look at the company’s finances, the balance sheet, the cash flow, the income statement, the shareholder’s equity. Look at all of that before making a decision. Call the nearby Chambers of Commerce, find out if they're even a legitimate company, if they even know the people. Get some background on the management as well. That's the advice that I give and to really speak to a financial adviser before getting started because most people really don't know their financial investment needs. Many of us are new to this, and it's because of cannabis that a lot of us are new to the investment side.
Coming into this industry, networking is key. Mix and mingle with people, get to know them and establish relationships because you never know who they may know. But once you find out what it is you want to do, have a crystal clear vision of what that looks like. Align with the right people—positive people. And people who can actually encourage you and help take you to the next level. That's with any industry, but especially with the cannabis industry because you're dealing with a new industry where many people are coming from underground and really don't have the business 101 yet. That's why so many educational platforms are popping up here and there. As a newcomer, as an entrepreneur, be mindful of your time. It's valuable and you can never get it back. Make key contacts.
What's a common misconception about the cannabis business?
I share with people that I'm in the cannabis industry, they automatically assume that I'm touching the plant—but the only time I'm touching the plant is when I consume it. When you start investing in the cannabis industry or stock, they assume that you're actually investing in the plant. They don't realize that this is an entire industry that has an advertising company, a marketing company, a PR company within the industry.
The common misconception is that everyone is a pothead and smoking weed and the world's going to end. How I debunk that is through character and presentation. You lead by example. When you show people that you are not the “typical pothead” that they've pictured through propaganda and the media, they get a different perspective, and they are really shocked. They say, "Oh my god, really? You smoke cannabis, but you're so professional!"
There's a lot of professionals in the closet. And I was in the closet for a long time, but times have changed. In the next two to ten years, we’re going to see a lot more changes.
What kind of changes?
Federal Legalization: I believe the cannabis industry will be legalized on the federal level. There will be families that will stand out, just like the Kennedys stood out when alcohol prohibition ended. Joseph Kennedy became the fifteenth wealthiest man in America and 85 percent of his wealth came from alcohol, according to the New York Times and what other experts believe, and this is why we know the Kennedys. People that will create generational wealth when federal legalization happens, it's going to be the people that take advantage of their time and positioning. That's where we are right now.