HARLEM — There are a lot of ways to make money from pot that don't involve the drug itself.
That was the message from three former Wall Street analysts who spoke Wednesday night to those gathered at the monthly meeting of High NY, a group dedicated to changing the way people use cannabis.
“Now is the time to get involved if you are serious about getting in this industry. Public opinion has never been higher, we’ve never had this much momentum,” High NY co-founder Michael Zaytsev, who worked as a financial analyst for J.P. Morgan and then as a salesman for Google, told the 50 people gathered at the Harlem Garage.
There are plenty of opportunities to get involved in the cannabis industry — even in New York, where recreational use is illegal, he said. There are a lot of ways to make money without touching the plant, including manufacturing ventilation systems for cultivators or pot vending machines and high-end glass pipes of dispensaries.
There are also software companies that offer weed-related services like product reviews or deliveries, he said. There is a weed tourism industry in Colorado that includes vineyard-like grow tours and bud & breakfasts, he added.
There are also opportunities for investors, panelists told the crowd, which was filled with activists, members of the city’s vape industry, entrepreneurs, supporters of medical marijuana and people who said they just like to smoke.
Scott Greiper, founder of Viridian Capital and Research, who also spoke at Wednesday night's meeting, said five years ago there were only five publicly traded cannabis-related companies in the country. This year there are about 250.
“We are the first investment banking firm that had the balls to actually enter the cannabis space and build public and private cannabis companies,” said Greiper, who spent 20 years working as a research analyst and investment banker in the technology, security and IT industries before switching to cannabis. "We are bringing legitimacy to this market."
Viridian's boardmembers include Mitch Lowe, the co-founder of Netflix; Jennifer Love, the highest ranking female FBI agent in history and Ned Siegel, the former U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas, he said.
One of the most promising things about the industry is that the demand is already there, he said.
For people coming into the weed industry, reputation is a big risk because established professionals aren't completely comfortable being associated with drugs, he added
Matt Karnes, a former equity analyst who has started analyzing the pot industry, spoke to the group about his experience founding GreenWave Advisors, one of the only companies offering professional analysis of the pot industry to investors.
“I have to be honest, a lot of my colleagues are like ‘Kudos for stepping into new territory’ and then there’s some that are like ‘get the hell away from me you’re a drug addict,’” he said.
He added that while some critics refuse to accept that pot is a lucrative growing market, “I would say [responses are] more skewed toward being accepting and happy about the whole industry evolving.”
That's been the experience of many members of High NY, which has been hosting gatherings since April 2014, organizers said.
Although they've been meeting for nearly a year, they still have a hard time being accepted.
“I talk to a lot of venues about doing events like this and they look at me like I’m absolutely crazy as soon as I say the word cannabis,” said Zaytsev.
Zaytsev thanked Ali Florian, the community manager for Harlem Garage, for opening her doors to the gathering.
“I am so grateful, and we are all real fortunate, to have this home tonight because Ali was like, ‘Hey, I’m a businessperson. I don’t care what we talk about, if it makes money, if entrepreneurs are into it, let’s do it.’”
Florian said she welcomed the group because they shed light on unique opportunities for local start ups, she said.
Before the guest speakers delivered their presentation, the group socialized over Subway sandwiches, cookies, PBR and Stella. Many said they came to network in a judgment-free zone with others who share their interests in the cannabis industry.
There are almost 500 members on their Meetup group. Other meetings have been on topics like hemp and the environment, marijuana and medicine, and high art. Later this year, the group plans to host the city's first Cannabis Film Festival.
“I was a little wary at first, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into," said Tiffani, who declined to give her last name because she works for the city. "But the speakers are so well informed and everyone is so welcoming.”