SAN FRANCISCO -- Lynette Shaw, the self-proclaimed "godmother of marijuana dispensaries," is thrilled that tech is helping bring cannabis into the mainstream.
"It's fabulous," the 61-year-old said here Friday at the inaugural New West Summit, a two-day conference on the budding billion-dollar convergence of pot with technology, business and media. "I'm honored to see my godchildren creating all of this."
Shaw, who in 1997 opened one of the first legal cannabis dispensaries in the US, received a lifetime achievement award at the confab for her work as an activist in legalizing medical marijuana. And her "godchildren" were well represented at the summit, which wrapped up this weekend.
The conference featured dozens of information booths and 30 panel discussions devoted to pot and tech and other topics. The buzz has been building for some time, said Amy Poinsett, co-founder and CEO of Denver-based MJFreeway.com, a leading maker of business software that tracks legalized weed as it goes from grower to dispensary to user.
"It's exciting to start seeing outside investors come into the cannabis sector," said Poinsett, whose 5-year-old company has clients in all 23 states that since 1996 have legalized marijuana for medical uses or in small amounts. Her booth was among the most visited Friday.
As people's opinions toward pot evolve, entrepreneurs are changing how marijuana is cultivated and consumed. They're adopting strategies straight out of Silicon Valley, from mobile apps to data mining, to achieve new highs. Investors aren't hazy either, dropping about $154 million into marijuana-focused startups in the first six months of 2015, according to venture capital research firm PitchBook. The market is expected to reach $3.1 billion this year, says industry publication the Marijuana Business Factbook 2015.
Another booth that sparked interest at the New West Summit was MassRoots, a hip social network for cannabis users, renowned for winning its battle earlier this year to get its app back in Apple's App Store.
MassRoots lets its 625,000 users post messages and photos. CEO Isaac Dietrich said it also lets some 5,000 businesses (mostly dispensaries) post updates and establish a following, since Google, Twitter and Facebook ban most marijuana-related advertising.
The Denver-based company was formed in 2013 when Dietrich and a buddy were smoking weed and realized that none of their friends who partake ever posted pictures of toking on popular social-media sites. But what if they had a more discreet alternative?
"I wouldn't want my grandmother seeing me holding a bong," Dietrich, 23, said. "So we created an environment where people actually felt comfortable sharing a similar experience."
Much to his parents' chagrin, Dietrich decided not to go college and instead maxed out $17,000 on his credit cards to start MassRoots.
Last year, as the company's app became one of the fastest moving in Apple's App Store, it caught the attention of the iPhone maker, which pulled it and banned all cannabis apps. But MassRoots enlisted 10,000 of its users and the National Cannabis Association to send letters to Apple CEO Tim Cook, explaining how Apple's policies stifled innovation in the cannabis industry. Cook and company reversed course in February. Two months later MassRoots went public, and it currently has a market capitalization at more than $50 million.
"Our mission is about connecting and empowering the cannabis community," Dietrich said of MassRoots, which is also a go-to site for discovering the hottest marijuana strains on the market. "We're the portal."
For Shaw, the activist, these are good times. In addition to her lifetime achievement award, she's back working in the industry after a federal judge last month lifted an injunction against her dispensary.
Shaw said she had founded the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, in Fairfax, California, to help those suffering from illnesses including cancer and AIDS. The dispensary had as many as 9,000 members but was shuttered during a federal crackdown in 2011. The judge ruled, however, that the Justice Department can't prosecute legal providers of medical cannabis, citing an amendment approved by Congress last year requiring the federal government to respect state marijuana laws.
Shaw has no plans to reopen her dispensary, though. She's shifted gears and currently works for a medical marijuana delivery service. She also hopes to go on the lecture circuit to tell her story.
"I'm happy to be back," she said, smiling. "And what a time to be back."