The legalization of cannabis is proceeding apace in the United States. 29 states have already authorized cannabis for therapeutic use and 9 have done so for recreational use. The stakes are economic: a windfall of 70 billion dollars by 2021. Enough to whet many business appetites.
They are bankers, accountants, computer scientists, and they are not marginal. But they have in common a taste for marijuana and a desire to get into the cannabis business.
To achieve this, more than a hundred of them took part in a training session this week in New York on "How to invest in cannabis". Cannabis is a booming sector with some $7 billion in sales expected this year.
Pith these aspiring students, Mark Giannone and his son Justin, residents of the neighboring state of New Jersey.
"We really like this plant, we want to get involved in this industry. We really feel there's a lot more than just recreational use," says Justin, a 31-year-old cyber security engineer.
"We came to find out. The industry is still very uncertain, I don't want to play roulette," says Mark, 60, an accountant.
Patricia's project, which will keep her last name secret because she "works for the federal government", is more advanced: the 33-year-old woman hopes to open a clinic in Connecticut (northeast) this year with her banker husband.
Both Connecticut and New Jersey have legalized the medical use of cannabis. But their authorities only grant licences on a drip-feed basis, keeping their market at an embryonic stage.
Silicon Valley as a model
Convinced of the virtues of the marijuana they regularly use, Mark, Justin and Patricia represent a new wave of entrepreneurs who wanted to invest in the sector before it was completely legalized and taken over by "Wall Street and the big corporations," says Mark.
Since Colorado (west) legalized cannabis for recreational use in 2012, seven US states, including California (west) and Massachusetts (northeast), and the federal capital Washington have followed suit.
Therapeutic use is already authorized in 29 states, plus the US capital. But marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.
Apprentice entrepreneurs hope that despite the ultra-conservative Trump administration, such as Justice Minister Jeff Sessions, the sector will continue the upward curve predicted by experts, who predict a $23 billion market by 2020. And that within a few years, a majority of states will have legalized recreational use, prompting the federal government to reconsider its position.
Already, explains Karson Humiston, head of the specialist recruitment firm Vangst from Denver (Colorado), "we are seeing more and more professionals who are not at all marginal, coming from finance, large companies in the agricultural world or science. "We're getting 500 resumes a day from people from all over the country and beyond who see an opportunity to improve their income or career and are often passionate about it," says the 24-year-old executive. "It's like being in Silicon Valley when the high-tech industry was just starting up.
"Avoid children! »
Nichole West, from Denver, makes no secret of the difficulties in the area. This pioneer is happy to recount the setbacks of her early days, which nearly ruined her. But she bounced back and now, at 32, she is vice-president of "Sweet Leaf", a company of more than 400 people that grows and sells cannabis and cannabis products. Regulations vary widely and are often confusing from state to state, creating enormous uncertainty for companies," she explains.
More importantly, while the proportion of Americans in favour of widespread legalization continues to rise - there were 61% in April, according to a CBS News poll - many Americans still consider cannabis dangerous. A hostility that must be respected if it is to succeed, says Nichole West. "Stay away from children," especially from schools, because "all it takes is one mother turned against you, and you become the devil! "She explains. "Donate to detoxification centers, you'll show that you know drugs are a problem, even if cannabis isn't one of them.