Two years ago, the federal legalization of cannabis didn’t seem like a pipe dream. Senators Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker and Ron Wyden were drafting the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which would end federal prohibition and scrap pot’s classification as a controlled substance, while the SAFE Banking Act, which would make it easier for banks to work with cannabis businesses, was en route to the Senate. At the same time, Nancy Mace, a Republican Representative from South Carolina, introduced a GOP-friendly bill to legalize marijuana. And odd political bedfellows like billionaire Charles Koch and Amazon came out in support of ending the country’s cannabis prohibition.
But when Congress postponed voting on the three bills at the end of 2022, pot stocks cratered and the price per pound of legal bud crashed. Today, the dream of legalization has gotten a bit hazier and caused the first employment drop in the history of the $26 billion legal weed market. But, with 88% of Americans in favor of legalization and nearly half living in a state or district where it’s legal already, according to Pew—not to mention the 12% increase in sales projected for the industry this year—there are reasons to keep hopes high.
For the past several months, Forbes has interviewed dozens of industry analysts, investors, entrepreneurs, executives and business owners, studying sales data and financial documents to identify the 42 entrepreneurs and leaders who are paving the way for the inevitable green rush. Publicly-traded companies were not considered in order to highlight smaller, entrepreneurial brands and people revolutionizing the industry from the ground up—and bettering its chances at legalization.