Colorado launched a new division within the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade this July called the Cannabis Business Office. Created as part of a bill passed this year, the office is designed to support cannabis entrepreneurs impacted by the War on Drugs. The team will implement low-interest loans, grants, and technical-assistance programs for qualifying cannabis entrepreneurs.
Vanderbilt neuroscience PhD Tristan Watkins will be heading the Cannabis Business Office, Westword reports. With background in both science and business, Watkins appears ready to lead the social equity program.
Coming from the private sector on the science side of cannabis, Watkins is eager to return something to the cannabis community. The Cannabis Business Office is aiming for mid-September in terms of timing for updating the public with details in a newsletter and online.
To speed the process, the office is approaching the technical-assistance project by identifying needs across three different stages: foundational, growth, and increasing efficiency. At this point, the office is preparing to launch the foundational stage of technical assistance to meet most of their target participants where they are.
Business basics are among the more challenging aspects of the cannabis industry, especially for entrepreneurs who lack technical experience or funding. Although it is a specialized industry, cannabis remains a standard business that demands strong foundation in the basics of taxes, accounting, and human resources. The Cannabis Business Office plans to address these skill areas.
Later the team will focus more on teaching participants to raise capital. Even though the OEDIT program itself will provide some startup capital, cannabis businesses require significant resources and funding to start and especially to scale.
Ongoing federal prohibition of cannabis remains a serious hurdle for the Cannabis Business Office. It cannot access resources that agencies like it typically would, such as the federal Small Business Administration and Small Business Development Center Network.
OEDIT stands apart from other programs because it does offer funding. The cannabis industry is capital-intensive, so preferential access to licenses is not enough to achieve social justice goals.
The Cannabis Business Office has allocated $1 million for grants and $2.5 million for micro-loans. How much a specific business gets will be determined by proposals and company size. The application process will be simplified, and funding will be tied to the proposal process, but without any of the extra hurdles that might exist in a traditional financial setting.
Some cannabis businesses are easier or cheaper to start than others, and some licenses, particularly those for cultivation, require more startup capital. The Cannabis Business Office is anticipating more traffic in hospitality and delivery.
In the end, the increased diversity of the Colorado cannabis industry—and greater choice for consumers—will stand as proof of the success of the program.