For some states and individuals, the marijuana business can mean big bucks.

In 2015, Colorado's weed business resulted in almost $1 billion in sales and more than $335 million in marijuana taxes and fees, $35 million of which leaders earmarked for school construction projects.

The drug is still illegal in Tennessee, and although legislation to change that is brought up each year, it never makes it far.

And because it's illegal, there is only a relatively small group of people who publicly endorse use of marijuana locally. But local anecdotal evidence suggests that many in the area think marijuana should be decriminalized at least in some ways. Some Tennessee farmers are already growing hemp, which is legal here.

Aside from last week's 4/20 rally, there have been quiet, seemingly anonymous online efforts in Chattanooga to promote legalization.

There is a chapter of national reform group NORML here, and according to the group's Facebook page, leaders were recently working on reorganizing their board, and during that time the group had become temporarily inactive. Members of the group couldn't immediately be reached for comment.


Entrepreneur Corey Barnette—who grew up in Chattanooga and got a degree in mechanical engineering from Tennessee Technological University before getting his MBA at Duke University—is making money from marijuana outside his home state.

He is now CEO of a Washington, D.C.-based company called District Growers, which aims "to have the largest variety of quality flower strains, edible and infused products, and oils and concentrates in the D.C. market, and to supply all licensed medical and then recreational retailers."

According to a 2015 Cannabis Business Executive article, Barnette had plans to expand into the recreational market when that opens. And he reported that his 2014 revenues were $500,000 and tracking toward at least $1.6 million a year. reached out to Barnette but didn't hear back.

Bang Holdings Corp.

YouTube star, Yale graduate, former tennis pro and entrepreneur Steve Berke said that in his earlier years he "looked down" on marijuana users, dismissing them as "lazy stoners."

But now, he's founded a high-tech Miami-based advertising startup called Bang Holdings that is aiming to allow advertisers to reach their desired market in areas where marijuana has been legalized for medical or recreational use, and promote cannabis products and services to those within a legal market.

His about-face began when a tennis injury ended his career. During the rehabilitation process, he had the opportunity to participate on reality show "The Rebel Billionaire: Branson's Quest for the Best" with businessman Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Group.

Berke didn't win on the show, but he competed all over the world and stayed in the game for a couple of months, during which time he traveled and hung out with Branson, who introduced Berke to marijuana.

When he got back home from filming, Berke said he was experiencing "weird, crazy side effects" from the pain medication he'd been given for his tennis injury.

That led him to use marijuana as a pain reliever.

"Basically, medical marijuana was the one thing to take without having negative side effects," he said.

Soon, he went from marijuana user to marijuana educator, he said. He was also doing standup comedy to make money, and a few of his routines included songs.

"It was very Adam Sandler meets Weird Al," Berke said of his work.

But the songs weren't conducive to the comedy club scene, so Berke turned to YouTube, and his videos ultimately went viral. One called "Pot Shop" has more than 14 million views.

Through the experiences of making the videos, Berke became an activist and ran for mayor of Miami Beach. He came in second with 30 percent of the vote, he said, and hasn't ruled out running for office again.

It was the YouTube experience that gave way to his current business. YouTube stars often get offered branding deals, and platforms such as Google and Facebook don't allow cannabis-related advertising, he said.

So in 2014, Berke set out to create a first-of-its-kind social media network that allows advertisers to effectively target the marijuana community and industry.

"Right now, we are in our growth stage," Berke said.

Bang clients don't necessarily have to be selling marijuana-related products, such as bongs or pipes. It could be anyone who wants to reach marijuana users. Maybe that's Taco Bell. Maybe it's a video game company. Maybe it's the creator of movies like "Pineapple Express," Berke said.

And the plan is to monetize the company in 2017.

Changing perceptions?

When asked about the idea that—as state Sen. Bo Watson said recently—Tennesseans aren't culturally ready for marijuana legalization, Berke said he understands because he used to have a negative perception of pot.

It took Branson to change his mind.

"Marijuana is the easiest substance in the world for someone to get," he said. "Do you want your kids getting it from a drug dealer?" Or do you want it to be regulated, safe and taxed, he asked.

He pointed to Colorado's success and argued that decriminalization has the potential to decrease crime. He argued that cigarettes and alcohol are far more dangerous than marijuana and said the only difference is the former two have been allowed to exist in a legal infrastructure for years.

"The negative stigma ... has to change," he said. "I'm not saying it's for everybody, but I would say everybody should try it. It's not going [to make you go] down the rabbit hole and become a heroin addict."