The legal marijuana industry may still be in its infancy, but its potential for growth has many investors taking notice. Funding platforms with the goal of supporting marijuana-related startups are on the rise, with a number of them headed up by Silicon Valley veterans.

Among the primary factors now attracting investors to the still-fledgling cannabis industry is that there is still ample room for innovation. In this article, we examine some of the most promising pot-related startups around.

Key Takeaways

  • Marijuana is legal in more than a dozen countries, while others have mixed laws that allow for its use recreationally or for medical purposes—or both.
  • The global marijuana market was estimated to be worth $9.1 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow 26.7% between 2021 and 2028.
  • Demand and support from celebrities are helping propel the industry even further.
  • Startups like Weedmaps and Leafly have attracted attention from big investors.
  • Some of the industry's most promising companies include Confident Cannabis, Eaze, and LeafLink.

The Marijuana Sector: An Overview

Marijuana is legal in more than a dozen countries while others have mixed laws that allow its use for either recreational or medical purposes—or both. Uruguay was the first country to legalize it for recreational purposes. Jamaica decriminalized cannabis in 2015 and the country saw its first medical dispensary open up three years later.

In October 2018, marijuana became legal for recreational and medical use in Canada. As of July 2021, 18 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia legalized recreational marijuana. A total of 36 states and three territories legalized medical marijuana.

The global marijuana market was estimated to be worth $9.1 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow 26.7% between 2021 and 2028. This growth is expected to be fueled by an increase in demand (thanks to the increasing degree of legalization around the world) along with a rise in the use of medical marijuana.

The industry is made up of a number of different companies, including:

  • Plant touchers (those that deal directly with and handle plants)
  • Ancillary service providers (dispensaries and manufacturers)
  • Breeders and cultivators
  • Extractors
  • Manufacturers

Growing Demand

Legal marijuana companies are able to leverage one important advantage, which makes them slightly different from those in the tech sector. While tech companies often need to create demand or to educate their consumer base, marijuana startups face no lack of demand—especially in North America. 

Investors who once backed tech firms are now funneling capital into the cannabis industry. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel's Founders Fund became the first institutional investor to put money into the legal marijuana industry. The fund was the lead investor in Privateer Holding's Series B funding worth $75 million in April 2015. Privateer Holdings has multiple cannabis investments.

Snoop Dogg is another notable investor in the industry. The rapper makes no secret of his affinity for marijuana and is the director of Casa Verde Capital, a venture capital fund that invests in cannabis startups. The company's portfolio includes names like Dutchie, Green Tank, and Cannalysis.

And he's not the only celebrity seeing green. Singer Justin Bieber partnered with California-based Palms to release packs of pre-rolled joints called Peaches in October 2021. Martha Stewart launched her own brand of CBD products, including wellness gummies and oil drops, after partnering with Canopy Growth. Stewart released the line in September 2020.

67%

Americans who believe marijuana should be legalized.

Marijuana Startups

Venture funding for marijuana startups seems to be pouring in from all directions. Commonly referred to as pot-preneurs, marijuana startup leaders are betting heavily on the potential for increased legalization.

Weedmaps

Weedmaps was founded in 2008 and is based in Irvine, California. It expanded and now has offices in New York, Barcelona, Denver, Tucson, and Toronto.

Weedmaps was the first marijuana tech and media brand and provides cloud-based software and data solutions to those within the marijuana industry. It also offers an app that connects consumers with dispensaries. The company was acquired by Grow One in 2015.

Leafly

Leafly allows consumers to rate and review cannabis strains, kind of like a highly specialized version of Yelp. Created by a trio of former Kelley Blue Book employees, the company started out as a simple side project in 2010. Within a year, it became a full-time enterprise and attracted the interest of Privateer Holdings. The company raised almost $41 million in three rounds of financing.

After the 2011 acquisition by Privateer, Leafly expanded with the aim of becoming a place for all types of marijuana users to find out more about everything related to marijuana, including which types of products are right for them and finding the dispensaries that sell what they need. 

Promising Companies

With so much growing interest in the growing marijuana cottage industry, it isn't surprising that so many venture capitalists have turned their attention and funding to a rapidly evolving cannabis tech industry. The following are just a few cannabis startups that have raised more than $10 million: 

  • Confident Cannabis: A company that promises to make the cannabis industry more transparent. Producers and retailers can share real-time data about the quality of their products to sell at a better price. The company raised $15 million over three rounds of financing as of January 2019.
  • Flowhub: This Denver-based company provides cannabis software for retail dispensaries. Its services allow retailers to conduct point-of-sale transactions, as well as compliance and inventory tracking, along with others. Flowhub raised $45 million in financing as of Oct. 21, 2021, in four different rounds of funding.
  • Eaze: Eaze is a tech and marketplace platform that connects consumers with retailers through safe delivery services, just like Uber Eats. The company raised $202.5 million as of Feb. 25, 2020.
  • Parallel: This company is also known as Surterra and Surterra Holdings. The company grows and processes medical marijuana. As such, it's considered to be a promising cannabis-based therapy company, raising $355.7 million as of January 2021.
  • Canndescent: This startup grows, packages, and sells cannabis flowers. It raised $57 million before being acquired by Power REIT in February 2021.
  • LeafLink: A wholesale management platform for the legal marijuana industry, has raised $339 million, as of December 2020.

The Stigma of Cannabis Investing

The bulk of investment money going to marijuana firms is actually making its way north of the border to Canada, where the federal government has legalized medical marijuana use. But U.S. investments are on the rise. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 11.8 million young adults used marijuana in 2018 alone, showing that the market will only continue increasing.

Not all investors are so quick to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to investing in these startups. Many of them remain hesitant because of the stigma associated with these investments. Some do not want to become involved with investments that directly involve the production and sale of marijuana. Whether a company actually touches the plant or not is a distinction that is vital in the marijuana industry.

Still, there are numerous investment opportunities in ancillary businesses for investors concerned about the stigma associated with marijuana. Such ancillary businesses include firms that provide security for medical marijuana dispensaries. As the profit potential for marijuana-related businesses continues to rise, more investors are willing to be open regarding their interest in the growing cannabis industry.