Associated Press

Small companies are stepping up to fill the needs of the evolving legal-weed economy—there's even a Yelp-style app.

Medical and recreational marijuana laws have become increasingly liberal, and the weed economy is now a very real thing. As The New York Times reported Wednesday, startups are moving into the very underserved and likely lucrative pot industry with products like childproof bags, high-tech vaporizers, and Leafly, aka Yelp for weed. Yes, before you know it potrepreneurs will begin obnoxiously disrupting the weed industry in full force. 

As The Times notes, the marijuana industry is ripe for small businesses for three major reasons: big businesses are afraid of the stigma, varying state laws make it hard for national companies to operate, and because the marijuana business is so new. 

The marijuana industry has its own trade schools and its own conventions. It has its own dumb inspiration stories, like the two Virginia guys who came up with MassRoots, a kind of Instagram for pot, while getting high. It even has its own sagelike venture capitalists. Troy Dayton is the co-founder of the ArcView Group, a network of investors who fund marijuana businesses. “You can’t find another industry growing at this clip that doesn’t have any major players,” Dayton told The Times. “That gives the little guy a chance to make a run at this.”

Of course, the legalization of cannabis—especially in Washington and Colorado—has also led to a sort of grey market. As USA Today reported earlier this week, Colorado has seen "illegal Craigslist pot deliveries to a marijuana vending machine and a food truck selling pot-infused sandwiches." These venture capital-less businesses hinge on a loophole in the law that allows adults to give other adults pot for free—the businesses just ask for a donation. That's the sort of entrepreneurial, but technically still illegal, behavior pot legalization has inspired—which is why people like the Gold Rush analogy so much. 

"There was a lot of opportunity [in gold] to get rich, but a lot of people froze to death and starved to death," Mike Elliott, a pro-marijuana lobbyist told USA Today. "There's a lot of opportunity [in the marijuana industry], but a lot of people are going to try and fail."

This post originally appeared on The Wire, an Atlantic partner site.

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