Cameras rolling, Richard Haines pitches his business: MDHerb, a website for medical marijuana patients to share their experiences with various products. He’s looking for $150,000 in exchange for about 12 percent of the company. He says MDHerb is “a collaborative community” that lets patients “keep journal entries of what they’re consuming and how cannabis is affecting their conditions.”
Haines is auditioning for the third season of the online series The Marijuana Show. The setup is similar to the ABC reality show Shark Tank, which milks the face-off between hopeful entrepreneurs and calculating investors into compelling television. But The Marijuana Show only considers companies involved in the legal cannabis industry.
Haines, a clean-cut 31-year-old with a neat beard, is a colon cancer survivor and a Crohn’s disease patient. He says he’s spent a third of his life in the hospital. During his pitch, he pulls up his black “I’m a patient” t-shirt to show off the surgical scars on his “frankenbelly.” Projected on the wall behind him is The Marijuana Show‘s logo: George Washington enjoying a joint.
As he pitches, Wendy Robbins and Karen Paull, who created, produce and host The Marijuana Show, cheer him on. “Speak from your heart, not from your head,” Robbins says. She wants Haines to adopt a Twitter-ready pitch for MDHerb and suggests he sell it as the “Wikipedia for cannabis,” though the analogy is inexact.
Haines, by his own admission, is not a seasoned performer. To loosen up, Robbins urges him to perform an impromptu rap. He resists and instead accepts a challenge more in line with his abilities, from Paull: double the number of patients using MDHerb, to about 2,500, in two weeks. To get on the show he’ll have to send in a video that shows him completing the challenge. Before contestants appear on the show, their companies also go through a financial vetting process.
On Shark Tank, entrepreneurs appear before a panel of star investors — the “sharks” — and try to convince them to buy in. When more than one shark wants a piece, they form alliances or try to outbid each other. The addictive show relies on a simple formula: an entrepreneur brings an idea — sometimes clever, sometimes goofy — to investors, and they determine whether it’s worth their money. Each entrepreneur leaves with a sense of closure; they got money or they didn’t, but they’re going to continue following their dream.
The format is a natural fit for the marijuana world, since many legal weed companies can’t access bank accounts, let alone business loans. But The Marijuana Show tones down Shark Tank‘s combative spirit. Long segments are given over to coaching and pep talks with the hosts and features on the show’s sponsors. When the entrepreneurs finally square off against the investors, the confrontations are less snappish than their counterparts on ABC.