DENVER (MainStreet) As a flood of would-be ganjapreneurs looks to get into the weed business, the number of cannabis colleges is swelling to help them navigate the complex web of ever-changing regulations that govern the industry.
The schools, typically one-day seminars, keep ganjapreneurs up to date on the laws, as well as educate those who want to get into the industry about what it takes to be successful.
Since America's first cannabis college -- Oaksterdam University -- was founded in 2007, hundreds of similar schools have popped up in states where weed is legal either for medical purposes or recreational use. They teach everything from how to grow a marijuana crop to what it takes to establish a dispensary. Many schools also offer courses that help people who want to serve the industry, rather than actually sell or grow weed. A typical one-day seminar costs between $250 and $300.
There are three distinct groups of people who attend cannabis college seminars: the average person who wants to be qualified for a job as a budtender or grower; entrepreneurs and investors, who want to learn about opportunities; and professionals such as electricians, doctors or insurance agents who want to serve the industry.
"90% of the jobs are services and products for the cannabis industry," said Bob Calkin, president and founder of the Cannabis Career Institute based in Burbank, Calif. "As great as the imagination is, that's what the cannabis industry can be. People just have to be exposed to facts and knowledge. It's not just selling weed."
On a recent Saturday in Denver, nearly 50 people crammed into the common area at Green Labs, the nation's first co-working space geared specifically toward ganjapreneurs, for a seminar developed by the Colorado Springs-based Marijuana Business Academy. Nearly half the students were from outside of Colorado, and few were already in the business.
The Marijuana Business Academy helps startups, investors and current owners understand the complicated laws and licensing procedures involved in starting a pot business. The academy also offers one-on-one consulting, as well as one-day group seminars where participants learn how to start, brand and grow a cannabusiness. Topics include the qualification process; seed-to-sale tracking; retail and cultivation operations; commercial leasing; banking; insurance and security requirements.
Though it may seem that there are endless opportunities in the weed industry, attorney Charles Houghton, who teaches the academy's seminars, cautions that the business isn't for everyone. Just because it's legal in Colorado, he says, those in the industry can still get in trouble with the feds.
"State law does not protect you," said Houghton, who sat on the Colorado Springs Medical Marijuana Task Force. "If that scares you, this may not be the industry for you. Look for an ancillary business. Figure out a niche that hasn't been met yet."
Still, as other states eye the economic benefits Colorado is reaping -- the state collected just over $12 million in taxes from recreational marijuana through the end of the fiscal year -- it's likely that many will legalize weed for recreational use.
"This is a moment of opportunity unlike any we've seen since the cotton gin," said KC Stark, who founded the Marijuana Business Academy in 2010. "This is a trillion dollar monster that is beginning to roar across our globe, and it's beginning in Colorado. We're taking it from the back street to Wall Street."
Based in Colorado Springs, Stark has taken the Marijuana Business Academy on the road, offering seminars in Florida, Chicago and Seattle. Stark says he plans to be in every state as weed becomes legal either for medical purposes or recreational use.
While the Colorado Business Academy focuses on guiding students through the legal maze of the industry, The Cannabis Career Institute focuses more on business techniques, presenting guidelines for creating, branding and marketing their businesses. The academy also teaches courses in compliance, state-by-state laws and growing.
"We have different experts in every field," said Calkin, who started as an instructor at Oaksterdam. "We are available to be their mentors through the whole process so they don't get taken advantage of."
Many of the schools are founded by people who have taken classes from one of the more established entities. Michelle LaMay, for example, took an online course offered by Oaksterdam before founding Cannabis University Inc. in Denver.
"I tweaked the all-in-one-day class for Colorado," LaMay said. "We include Colorado laws, growing conditions, climate and water availability. There are a lot of books and DVDs out there, but if you need your questions answered immediately, I'm the school for you. We believe in getting you going."
--Written by Margaret Jackson for MainStreet