Quitting finance to focus on marijuana sounds like it's something that involves finding yourself by surfing and living in a beach hut in California. But with momentum building for the legalization of cannabis in the U.S. – 29 states and the District of Columbia have laws legalized marijuana in some form – finance professionals are increasingly viewing it as a big business opportunity.
The number of jobs that the cannabis industry is creating continues to increase. New Frontier Data, a research and analytics firm, projects that the legal cannabis market will create more than 250k jobs by 2020 – more than manufacturing, utilities or government jobs – and will grow from $7.2bn last year to at least $24.5bn by 2025.
“California will soon have legal regulated medical and adult [recreational] use marijuana and it is the most populated state,” said Frank Lane, founder of the Cannabis Financial Network, which educates investors on the industry. “California will help spur more growth in the cannabis industry that is expected to reach $35bn in size by 2021, which means more companies will emerge to address consumer and patient demand.”
Bankers and buy-side professionals are quitting their jobs for a "substantial" cut in pay to get in at the early stages of this growth, but believe that it will pay off over the long-term. It's not exactly a day job – the cannabis industry is still like the wild west and so it's likely to be a better fit for those with an entrepreneurial mentality who embrace the freedom and uncertainty of being your own boss.
Neil Demers, a former client services executive at OppenheimerFunds, quit his job after the increase in national support for legalizing cannabis caught his attention. He started Mr. Stinky’s, a dispensary that had a skunk for a mascot. Demers decided to target the high end of the market, and so in February, he cut the ribbon on Diego Pellicer Colorado, the Denver outpost of the Seattle-based franchise. He put in $600k of his own money and raised more than $3m in equity and debt to outfit his dispensary with oak cabinets, Doric columns and other luxury decor.
“Real estate values are increasing [in states that have legalized cannabis], more professionals are starting to enter the sector and the states and local municipalities are starting to benefit from tax revenues,” he says. “We have passed the tipping point and cannabis will eventually become fully legal.”
Lisa Marguiles is a financial services lifer who never thought she'd work in any other industry. She's spent more than three decades in the financial sector, including stints at J.P. Morgan's private bank and at Washington Mutual. She's still a registered financial adviser (RIA) and branch manager at Regatta Capital Group, but she was pushed towards the cannabis industry when one of her two children needed medical marijuana before it was legalized in California.
"My son was about 13 years old and struggling with severe depression – he had been diagnosed with two different processing disorders, and thehe combination left him feeling deeply frustrated and unable to communicate effectively," Marguiles says. "After I took a huge risk and explained to one of his friends what was really happening with him, his friend hugged me and told me not to worry – apparently, he took him and introduced him to marijuana.
"I admit that I was a bit horrified, but I knew instinctively, that I should give it a chance," she says. "Today, he is 26 years old and applying to medical school. I never medicated him and he was able to find his balance using marijuana in a loving and safe environment so he could develop his own inner mastery of his body."
Marguiles is now CFO of Burn Entertainment, a cannabis-focused media company that is attempting to emulate the business model of Netflix and Hulu.
The cannabis industry is in need of financial professionals, including CFOs, accountants, analysts, controllers and bankers with M&A experience.
“If you have the entrepreneurial spirit, right now there is still a big opportunity to make high income in the sector – you have not missed the boat … yet, although this industry is not for the faint of heart,” Demers says.
Lane recommends attending cannabis industry expos to connect with companies and entrepreneurs that are pursuing various business models opened up by legalization.
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