Near the coast of Vancouver, Canada, a new corporate headquarters has shot up like a manmade behemoth among the mountains of British Columbia. Inside, the facility is more sterile than a hospital, more orderly than a bank. Rows and rows of product sit on metal shelves, waiting for employees to put them into packages, slap labels on those packages, then send them straight to consumers’ doorsteps. It is quite literally like an Amazon.com warehouse — except rather than distributing clothing, electronics and food, the company called Tilray is producing and distributing pot.
“It’s always been a for-profit industry,” says Brendan Kennedy, CEO of Privateer Holdings, Tilray’s parent company. “People have been consuming cannabis in the United States for the last 75 years, illegally. And it’s been an industry that has been driving lots of revenue, lots of profits to illicit operators, whether we’re talking about motorcycle gangs in Canada or cartels in Mexico.”
With the piecemeal legalization of marijuana in some areas over the past few years, companies that cater to the cannabis industry have sprouted up across North America. Tilray produces medical marijuana and exports it to consumers around the world. Privateer also owns the website Leafly, which provides consumers with information on different cannabis strains and the locations of cannabis retailers around the world.
While obviously taking advantage of the vast financial opportunities legal pot brings, these companies claim they are not trying to expand marijuana’s consumer base (a prospect which greatly concerns many American parents). Rather, they argue that they are simply shifting the existing market to a safer and more regulated product.
“People can already grow cannabis and people are already willing to buy it,” says Kennedy. “All we’re seeing is a transition from $200 billion worth of illicit purchases to $200 billion worth of fully legal purchases. And there are a number of public companies that will be created in the middle of that transition.”
With the creation of those companies will ultimately come the creation of brands. And Kennedy believes those brands will be crucial in rendering marijuana more mainstream.
“Our focus is on building mainstream, global brands that help transition the cannabis industry from an illicit market to a fully legal, transparent market around the world,” he explains to CBSN correspondent Tony Dokoupil in the new CBSN Originals documentary, “Big Pot: The Commercial Takeover.”
The documentary also investigates how average marijuana consumers around the U.S. feel about the prospect of “big pot.” For one recreational pot smoker in Portland, Oregon, the rise of those seemingly omnipresent brands seems all but inevitable.
“I don’t think they’re at the point where there is an established ‘big pot’ yet,” he told Dokoupil. “[But] there will be like a fine restaurant and then there will be a Burger King. And I think there will be a McDonald’s of marijuana.”
And someday, they may all potentially ship right to your doorstep from the Amazon.com of pot.