Twenty-seven years ago you bought your web browser in a box. How will you buy pot in 27 years? Credit: Marcin Wichary / Flickr

Among the most common refrains I hear from legal cannabis business pioneers is that “we are still in the early innings”. 

With pitchers and catchers not due to report to Spring Training for another six weeks or so, allow me to posit a more generational metaphor and compare today to 1994.

The Internet industry for all intents and purposes became a thing on August 9, 1995 when Netscape went public. That company put a graphic interface to the zeros and ones of connected computing and, along with America Online, Yahoo! and other world wide web portals, brought mainstream users to what had formerly been a nerdy underground. 

Netscape’s post IPO share price ascent from $28 to $174 by year-end made a lot of investors rich. One year later, The Telecommunications Act of 1996 institutionalized the industry. 

After a few early fits and starts, the Internet for better and worse changed the very fabric of human existence while amassing several trillions of dollars in enterprise value for investors and stakeholders along the way.

Back to pot.

Leading off 2022, there are about a dozen licensed U.S.-based cannabis corporations with stocks trading on Canadian Exchanges that are worth $1 billion or more. Curaleaf and Green Thumb Industries are currently leading the pack, each with valuations hovering around $5 billion. 

More recently, THC tech companies are showing massive market potential, with Snoop Dog’s digital services company Dutchie fetching a $3.75 billion valuation off of a $350 million equity infusion last October. 

While early equity holders in those firms are singing Bow Wow Yo Yippy Yo Yippy Yay all the way to the banks willing to hold their drug money, trillions of dollars more will be invested in cannabis once the feds are ready to play ball. 

So when will that be?

A fun pot parlor game is to speculate when the government will make it feasible for federally chartered financial institutions to serve a federally illegal industry.  

A year ago, industry insiders were intoxicated by the possibility of a Biden presidency and a Democratic-controlled Congress delivering The SAFE Banking Act. Market speculators thought this, or similarly proposed legislation, would open the floodgates not only to banks but other corporations in the pharmaceutical, spirits, tobacco, technology, and media industries (to name a few) seeking growth in greenfields. 

Alas, Biden prioritized infrastructure legislation above all else in 2021. While there are whispers that cannabis banking legislation will resurface this year, we may very well see the Republicans own the issue after they presumably take control of one or both chambers of congress in 2023. 

Like The Telecommunications Act of 1996, however, it’s a matter of when not if industry-defining legislation will emerge.

From a financial markets perspective, although there is nothing comparable to a Netscape IPO “first day pop” on the horizon in the cannabis industry, the consumer appetite for bud is in dial-up mode and will soon be ready for broadbonged. 

Among the many surprises I’ve encountered in two years of reporting on cannabis is how quickly societal marijuana mores evolve once a state’s citizenry obtains legal permission to imbibe. Jah Bless.

The more access consumers have to cannabis and its many form factors, the more they are willing to pay for it. This is true for red state Oklahomans where four million citizens purchased a billion dollars of legal weed in 2021 and blue state New York where an estimated multibillion underground market exists ahead of upcoming adult-use legalization. 

I remember a time when it was frowned upon to enter credit card information to a website. Today, some cannabis consumers without access to legal options or who are price sensitive don’t think twice about using Telegram to view a menu from their dealer and Venmo to transfer money from their bank account to get their goodies dropped off at their front door.  

Hackers in large part invented the internet and dealers gave most of us our first exposure to weed. In ascending industries like the Internet a generation ago and cannabis today, a virtuous cycle occurs when barriers to entry are reduced, best practices become professionalized and consumption goes mainstream. 

When I started getting AOL Instant Messages from elderly relatives in the late nineties I knew something was in the water, and the world as I knew it to be would never be the same. It won’t be too long until a critical mass of twenty-somethings get their gummy suggestions from their grandparents. 

We’ve seen this movie before. Now, if we’re so inclined, we can watch it again while high.

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.