The Wharton Cannabis Business Club aims to bring Penn to the forefront of the cannabis industry while also working to eliminate the stigma surrounding it.
The group has amassed a membership of approximately 70 students and is one of the first groups of its kind among business schools. The club’s main activities include hosting industry speakers and connecting members with jobs in the emerging field.
They also aim to professionalize and advance “the broader cannabis industry both on the medical and adult use sides,” said Colin Keeler, a WCBC board member and second-year Wharton MBA student.
WCBC was also formed to help Wharton students take advantage of the profitable field. The industry is projected to create approximately 300,000 jobs by 2020, and has already seen a 690 percent increase in job listings between January 2017 and August 2018.
Keeler said the group also hopes to eliminate barriers to the cannabis industry by working to “dispel the taboo” around it. “This is a product that, as it legalizes, you’re seeing it go from an illegal drug to now a consumer product,” he said.
Since the Nov. 6 midterm elections, 10 states and Washington D.C. have legalized recreational-use marijuana. 33 states have legalized it for medical use, including Pennsylvania.
“The industry is at a really interesting inflection point with the Democrats taking back the House,” Keeler said.
“People see a much higher likelihood that federal legalization might happen, or at least decriminalization, might happen within the next few years,” Keeler said.
While cannabis is not legal for recreational use in Pennsylvania and in many other states, that does not halt the club or industry from expanding. Keeler said “the market isn’t just contained to just deregulated jurisdictions” because of the ability to separate two parts of the cannabis plant, CBD and THC. THC is the chemical that gives its user a high, while CBD is better known for medical benefits. “CBD right now is just exploding,” he said.
The club’s official stance on legalization is nonpartisan, and it encourages members to form their own opinions on the matter. Keeler said, however, he personally wants to see cannabis decriminalized.
“The federal illegality of the product has ruined far more people’s lives and put a tremendous amount of burden on our society by putting people in jail who don’t deserve to be there,” Keeler said. “We are sort of righting a wrong right now that has gone on for far too long.”
Keeler, who manages the club’s communications, was introduced to the industry during his summer internship at cannabis-focused venture capital firm Salveo Capital. He then turned to the WCBC to expand his expertise.
Cannabis is also present on other parts of Penn’s campus. Penn Medicine recently received approval by Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf to study the effects of medical marijuana. Penn students can also drink CBD oil-infused smoothies at the restaurant Fuel on 32nd and Chestnut streets.