How the Green Revolution Will Be Televised

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There are traditional ways to find seed money for your cannabis enterprise, and then there’s the 21st-century way: by appearing on a reality-TV show.

Taking a cue from ABC’s successful Shark Tank, filmmaker Wendy Robbins and Broadway producer Karen Paull have created The Marijuana Show, an online series in which contestants pitch their companies and products to a panel of investors.

“Use a booming voice,” Robbins instructed the hopefuls at a recent New York casting call. “If you want $1.5 million, I gotta remember you.”

And lo, the voices did boom. But while a loud set of pipes can draw attention during the auditions, it takes preparation, savvy and a compelling idea to land a spot on the show. Once they get that far, contestants have a chance to score the real prize: big bucks to jumpstart their business.

It turns out to be compelling viewing. The Marijuana Show’s creators bring a certain joie de vivre to the proceedings, which might otherwise get bogged down in the money-grubbing nuts and bolts of venture capitalism.

Diverging somewhat from its Shark Tank inspiration, The Marijuana Show focuses more on the aspirants themselves than on the money-bags patrons. At today’s audition, Ian and Alex are two young ganja-preneurs from Brooklyn. Their product, a vaporizer the size and shape of a credit card, is “perfect for New York, because it’s so discreet.” If chosen, they plan to ask the investors for “between $200,000 and $500,000.” These guys have a decent shot because they already have a patent, which is no small thing in the ganja biz.

Shanel Lindsay, an attorney from Boston (who happened to help write the Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative, up for voter approval in November) touts her company’s precision decarboxylator, a handy item the size of a Big Gulp intended for patients who prepare their medication at home. (“You’re called back for sure!” Robbins enthuses.)

Other candidates follow: a filmmaker who makes “THC comedies”; a med-pot ambassador who hopes to bring the green revolution to Puerto Rico; the CEO of a social-media startup; two young men working to bring communities of color into the cannabis industry.

It’s a diverse group, which is probably no accident. “I’m really tired of seeing mostly white men,” Robbins says. “No offense, white guys, but really – white men are 95 percent of what’s pitched to us. So we would love, love, love to change that.”

The show has traveled all over the country in an effort to find talented and telegenic contestants. “Every city is different,” says Paull. “Even when we have 200 people pitch, you never have the same idea.”

Indeed, the show reveals the vibrancy and breadth of this young industry, where new ideas and the innovators behind them are both on the rise. Like the industry itself, The Marijuana Show is poised for expansion. Season 2, which debuted on iTunes and Amazon in July, disbursed some $13 million in investment capital to the winners; Season 3 will see investors shovel out another $20 million.

So how did today’s batch of contestants do? “I think we’ve seen some really good ideas, but I think some are more fleshed out than others,” says Robbins. “New York being a nascent market, I’m not surprised there are more startups than usual.”

After the tryouts, I ask The Marijuana Show’s creators how they got their seed money. “We met a guy at a bar, we had a drink, and we put a number on a napkin,” Paull reveals. “And he said okay. We didn’t have to go through any of this.”

Robbins jumps in: “Which is wild, right? We got a million-dollar investment. It’s crazy! We’re really blessed.”

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