Sunday, March 12th, kicked off the 29th annual ROTH Conference at the stunning Ritz Carlton in Dana Point, CA. An invite-only event that boasts some of the top global leaders, this conference is one of the largest of its kind with over 500 companies and 4,000 participants, with key sector focuses including, healthcare, technology, internet & media, cleantech, industrial growth & solar, consumer, oil & gas / mining & minerals and business services.

But what was different about this conference from the hundreds of others that I've attended was the clear statement it made as it related to the medical and recreational marijuana industries.

The opening conference panel was a fascinating talk with Byron and Ted Roth, with speakers Michael Abbott, Rosemary Mazanet and Michael Lerner on the medical uses for marijuana. Their main takeaway was that while there is still a lot of room nationally for growth in this market, industry research and development all point towards a great boom in this market that is happening right now.

Now you could say "okay, one conversation at a 4-day conference isn't a game changer"... but ROTH didn't stop there. They opened the entertainment portion of the day with Wiz Khalifa, a notorious advocate for recreational use.

I have to say, it was quite amusing watching a majority 50+, white male, conservative audience dance along to "Work Hard, Play Hard" while trying to figure out what to do with the giant plastic blow up joints that Wiz' people were passing out to the audience.

Coincidentally, I ran into a company the night of the show that went public last year in the hydroponic space, GrowGeneration. After these 3 incidents, it became clear to me that this was definitely not happenstance. I had the pleasure of spending some time talking to the GrowGeneration co-founders who, having just taken their company public last year and who plan on being the first company in their vertical on the Nasdaq stock exchange (GRWG), were in a unique position to comment.

I asked them:

  1. Why they thought a historically conservative industry was beginning to pay attention to this market?
  2. Why were they are doing so now?
  3. What one thing do they believe people getting into this industry should know?

President, Michael Salaman, responded, "Investors are seeking out investments in the cannabis industry and are hoping to profit from the fastest growing new market in the USA in some time. GrowGeneration benefits from all sides as more growers come to us for their equipment and nutrients, which is why we were able to grow as exponentially as we have without directly touching the end product. But people need to know that when entering the market you either touch the plant or you don't, and if you decide to touch the plant it's critical to be vertically integrated, make your grower your partner like an Iron Chef."

As an agency owner, I have been keenly aware of this shift in the industry for some time. I even went so far as to purchase several urls I thought would be relevant to develop landing pages and advertising targeting this industry.

It's clear that a historically taboo industry is on its way to becoming mainstream and nationally accepted. While it's still a little ways away from federal legalization, even traditionally conservative industries like private equity groups are starting to weed their way into this market.

My prediction? The marijuana markets will go the way of spirits brands, where there will be a lot of people entering, but the big successes will be those that are vertically integrated, have great operations, distribution and inventory controls, and of course, great marketing.