From Girl Scouts to Jack in the Box: the business of catering to marijuana smokers

Nearly four years ago, a 13-year-old girl undertook a venture that was hailed as entrepreneurial genius by many.

Accompanied by her mother, she sold Girl Scout cookies to customers emerging from a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco.

The story generated national attention — and a morality debate. One thing was undebatable, if predictable: She struck the mother lode of people jonesing for a snack.

While some questioned whether this was proper commerce for a Girl Scout, not to mention objecting to her mother’s participation, it is now clear she was ahead of her time.

Jack in the Box just announced that later this month it is launching a limited promotion in Long Beach of “Merry Munchie Meals,” a tacos-fries-drink combo unapologetically marketed to folks who toke.

The fast-food giant no doubt will be joined by a litany of businesses big and small aiming to cash in on the whims and appetites of California pot smokers in the fully legalized era.

San Diego, which has fully embraced the legalization of recreational marijuana and is the only city in the region to do so, is certain to see its share of such enterprises. Some existing marijuana dispensaries already are selling recreational pot and more will be opening.

Marijuana tourism is being discussed as the next big thing for San Diego, potentially dwarfing another niche market — craft beer tourism.

Companies and entrepreneurs are looking at ways to create or expand businesses in a similar vein to the opportunity some saw for a new market after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriages in California in 2013.

San Diego’s hoteliers, caterers and wedding-cake bakers were poised to grow in anticipation of a flood of new business from same-sex couples.

While not an exact parallel, “weed weddings” are already a thing here and elsewhere in the nation. Specialty florists decorate bouquets with buds and marijuana leaves and create “budineers.” There are specialty wedding planners and, of course, menus.

If San Diego becomes a hub for marijuana tourism, there will likely be event planning, special deals, and advertising and marketing aimed at attracting pot smokers, from here and afar.

Much of what San Diegans can expect in the coming years from both the cannabis industry and ancillary businesses can be gleaned from Colorado, where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2014.

Last year entrepreneur.com published a story titled “9 Business Ideas for People Looking to Cash in on the Marijuana Boom,” offering examples from Colorado and including estimated startup costs and other advice.

Cannabis-friendly bed and breakfasts topped the list. The story linked to Denver’s Bud + Breakfast (“We’ll keep the bowl burning for you.”). B+B calls itself “the pioneering brand in the canna-lifestyle hospitality sector” and clearly has fun promoting its various packages, such as Romancing the Stoned (“Couples that toke together stay together!”).

Other suggested businesses: cannabis florist, delivery service, consulting, equipment sales, dispensary designer, cuisine and catering. There were a couple of ideas I found questionable. One was cannabis bike tours (Umm...riding under the influence is illegal in California). The other was cannabis-friendly painting classes (Classes?! We don’t need no stinking classes!)

Marijuana’s newly legal status has also brought about a resurgence in paraphernalia, though some of it is a far cry from the sometimes cheap, head-shop variety of yore.

Jane West’s self-named business markets “Luxe accessories for a modern, sophisticated cannabis experience.”

She likens her glassware smoking collection — you won’t find the word bong or pipe on her website — to fine wine glasses people display in their homes.

West says she designs “goods and accessories that will go with the legal lifestyle of the future.”

Marijuana is now legal — in some form — in more than two dozen states and the District of Columbia. The emerging cannabis market is predicted to be huge — an estimated $5 billion in California alone.

We’ll see whether such expectations for the industry and associated businesses will be met. But some big-talking entrepreneurs say the sky’s the limit.

Here’s what the Denver digital marketing company JEMSU said in announcing a spinoff division that will focus on marketing marijuana.

"Cannabis represents the future of the American consumer economy ... The Jack Daniels and Apple of cannabis haven’t emerged yet. Our goal is to build those brands today,” said Christopher Mulgrew, president and CEO.

While the new gold rush seems to be here, the state of California rang in the new year with a warning that there is a dangerous and expensive down side for tokers who cast caution to the wind.

In recent days, the electronic signs along Southern California interstates have carried a blunt message. “DRIVE HIGH GET A DUI.”

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