Is cannabis the next Internet? That's the bold claim made by Tokyo Smoke CEO Alan Gertner.

The former head of an Asia-Pacific-wide sales team at Google saw his life change after a Ghanian tour guide told him, “You either work on something you love, or work because it supports the people you love.”

After hearing this, Gertner quit Google. His former philosophy – “Work hard, get promoted, make more money.” – left him unfulfilled.

While meditating for months in the beautiful landscape of Japan, Gertner had the idea for his current business, Tokyo Smoke. His main passions in life were coffee, clothing and cannabis. His father, Lorne Gertner, co-founded Cannasat Therapeutics, Canada’s first publicly traded cannabis company.

He hoped Tokyo Smoke would redefine the cannabis marketplace and opened in Toronto a show room with a coffee bar, branded clothing and cannabis paraphernalia. Tokyo Smoke set out to be “home to the creative class.”

Alongside clothing, the company developed proprietary cannabis strains. In  an article in The Globe and Mail, Gertner said cannabis is, “the next Internet – an immense and untrammelled new market opportunity.”

Tokyo Smoke plans to open coffee shops in Seattle and Los Angeles, with Tokyo Smoke-branded cannabis strains planned to ship to independent retailers in California, Oregon, Washington State.

Gertner took time recently to answer some of MERRY JANE’s questions.

MERRY JANE: What did you mean exactly when you compared marijuana to the Internet?

AG: I think [marijuana] represents an amazing opportunity, and it is in a lot of ways the next big untrammeled market. It’s a very exciting thing to look ahead to.

MJ: Do you believe marijuana will be as big as the Internet?

AG: I think that the marijuana market will grow substantially, and reasonable projections say that within next five years the cannabis market in the  US will be bigger than the concessionary market.  So, it’s very exciting to think of the possibilities. Though it’s difficult to say whether the cannabis economy will be bigger than the Internet. Both are developing and growing fast, and it’s an  exciting time.

MJ: Any thoughts on Hemp? Was that included in your prediction?

AG: Hemp will be the following revolution. Cannabis is obviously sexy. One of the nice things about the cannabis market is there was a pre-existing user base. After the cannabis revolution, there will be a hemp revolution, including the power of CBD or potential for hemp to be used in many different ways. I am incredibly excited about the role hemp can play in society and I hope Tokyo Smoke can be a part of that as well. We want to bring delightful experiences to customers and hemp is another way we can do that.

MJ: What is the most interesting topic in marijuana currently?

AG: I am really excited for marijuana to develop a common nomenclature for the general public. We have terms like “sativa,”  “indica”, “THC” and “CBD”, but those are all not exactly consumer friendly terms. They’re somewhat scientific or medical, and I am really looking forward to consumers developing a common nomenclature to describe and understand different cannabis experiences

MJ: Has this developed at all thus far?

AG: Yes! There are lots of people taking an approach to this. Our perspective at Tokyo Smoke is we believe there are four common types of marijuana experiences: Go, Relax, Release, and Balance. There’s an exciting movement ahead where brands will build bonds with customers and develop different experiences so you can look forward to, in the future, different genres or brands of cannabis, just like there are different genres or brands of wines. Pinot Noirs all have similarities, as do Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots. I am excited for similar to happen in the cannabis business.

MJ: What is most controversial in cannabis and your work currently?

AG: We still do work in an Industry that has an immense amount of stigma. Cannabis has been illegal for quite a long time. The repeal of prohibition in states requires people to change their perception. We have all lived in a world where “stoner culture” exists. Let’s transition away from that and recognize the fact that cannabis is part of mainstream, it just doesn’t have a home in mainstream culture yet, which is a big challenge. That’s what I think is most exciting – the transition from a small subculture to mainstream culture.

MJ: What’s the most important aspect of your work?

AG: The most important part of my work is proving that cannabis can be beautiful. We all need to persevere together. We have a lot of stigma we are working up against, and so to make sure we make thoughtful decisions, and that we always keep in mind our goal of providing delightful experiences to customers. And that’s a challenge, because that’s what we are in this for. The cannabis space has pre-existing users and a pre-existing subculture, but we want to make sure we can design and provide beautiful new experiences. In a way, reintroduce cannabis to the mainstream so the movement is positive.

MJ: Do stigmas of marijuana parallel early internet?
AG: I think just like with the Internet, it takes a lot of time for people to wake up to the revolution.  With the internet, it took awhile before people were all onboard that it was going to change society and be a major part of the economy and be a major source of development. That is the parallel to cannabis; we are in the midst of revolution, some people have woken up, some haven’t.