Ryan Alexander-Tanner

I lucked into a few thousand bucks. Can I invest in weed?

YES, BUT probably not in the way you're thinking.

The general rule in this country is that only wealthy people get to invest in private companies. These "accredited investors" are allowed to invest under an exemption to the Securities and Exchange Commission's private offerings rules. If you made $200,000 for each of the past few years, or your net worth is north of $1 million, you may qualify. Most of us do not qualify, and probably don't fall under one of the less common exemptions either. The idea is that most people could not weather a financial shellacking and the world is filled with crooks.

Not being an accredited investor still allows you to kick back and invest in publicly traded companies, which are listed on mainline exchanges like the NASDAQ and Dow. You could also buy Over-the-Counter (OTC) stocks, but that requires you to enlist a brokerage, meet minimum balance requirements, pay fees, etc. As of last week, the NASDAQ denied listing to a cannabis social network called MassRoots (long story), but that one still sells OTC—so if you do some digging, you can probably buy. For now, though, there are no weed companies on the large US indices.

So, are there any publicly traded weed companies? The answer is yes: Canada began licensing private companies to produce pot for its citizens a while back, including a few companies my law firm works with. Some of those companies have gone public, and you could buy those stocks today. To my knowledge they are all OTC and penny stocks, which means you can generally buy shares for less than $5, and some of them are probably sketchy pump-and-dump schemes (hopefully not the ones we work with). There are lots of great stories of people getting rich off penny stocks, but few of them are true. I would tread carefully here.

If you don't want to hit the pink sheets for pot stocks, you could also find a startup here in Oregon, and try to buy a sliver of the business with your $2,000. But I would not recommend this, for a couple of reasons: The first is that any startup that will bring you in, to any degree, for a mere $2,000 is probably not a good company. The second is that many pot companies adding investors don't know what they're doing, and are breaking securities laws. However, if the startup gives you documents written by a lawyer—including bleak language about prison time, fines, and seizure of your property—you may be on track.

Ultimately, the options for weed investment are few, and you have to really want to invest. There are interesting and very new developments with crowdfunding rules that may change this tableau, but it may be a while to see whether pot companies give them a look. For now, it is probably best to put that $2,000 back in your pocket.