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In about-face, former pot opponents are now investors

Nearly a year ago, New York Assemblyman Steve Katz found himself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. He was busted for marijuana possession when he was pulled over for speeding.

The news shocked many people, mostly because the Republican lawmaker had voted repeatedly against legalizing marijuana—even for medicinal use. But Katz has changed his tune.

"I am a national advocate for medical marijuana and, ultimately, adult-use marijuana," he said. "And in the process I am also an investor starting a number of businesses."

(Read more: How former DEA agents became pot proponents)

The nascent pot industry has attracted people from all quarters. Whether they are interested in investing in or consulting for cannabis businesses, the most unlikely candidates are jumping on the bud bandwagon.

For example, Pennsylvania State Sen. Daylin Leach was among more than 100 participants in Arcview Group's cannabis investor conference in Las Vegas in January.

"The idea that we put people in prison for marijuana … it's just an irrational policy," said Leach, a Democrat who is running for Congress.

"It's cruel, it's heartless, it makes no sense," Leach said. "Twenty years from now we are going to have exhibits at museums about prohibition on marijuana like we do about alcohol as some sort of quaint relic of our past and wondered why we ever went down that road."

While in the Navy, Jim Willet went on missions to eradicate marijuana. Thirty years later, he's investing in the legal cannabis industry.
Source: Jim Willet
While in the Navy, Jim Willet went on missions to eradicate marijuana. Thirty years later, he's investing in the legal cannabis industry.

Jim Willet, a Navy veteran, has also joined the club.

"I was a lieutenant and one of our missions was drug interdictions ... looking for the mother ships delivering bails of marijuana to the coast," he told CNBC. "And that was 30 years ago."

(Read more: Career switch: From pot busters to pot protectors)

A Washington resident, Willet voted against legalizing marijuana there last year but has invested in a number of cannabis-related companies.

"When I realized you could make money in this industry I did an about-face."

Katz and others also have done an about-face and are going from fighting marijuana to participating in its economy.

(Read more: The best cities to live for marijuana lovers)

He wants to create jobs, Katz said, and there's nowhere better right now than the cannabis business.

"The marijuana industry is the next great industry to emerge in our country," he said. "We are looking at a legacy of the great American tradition of free market entrepreneurialism. …This is going to be the engine that powers jobs, that powers new industry, that powers revenue."

—By Dina Gusovsky

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