Friday March 15, 2019
Updated on 11/13/2019
A large portion of the already sizeable crop of 2020 presidential hopefuls have come out in favor of national cannabis legalization, and the continual wave of states choosing to create their own adult-use measures has stopped waiting for election cycles to move forward. Ten states and the District of Columbia allow for recreational use, and over 30 states implementing some form of medical cannabis access, with numerous others looking to join. Now more than ever, the idea of a national cannabis market has gone from fantastical to probable.
The Current State of Cannabis Reform
The rapid success of Massachusetts’ adult-use cannabis retail market has surrounding states hustling to catch up. In 2019, New York, New Jersey and Illinois are looking to legalize by the end of the year through various legislative action, with express aim to have a regulated retail system open soon after. When New Jersey and New York eventually go legal, it is likely to set off a chain of east coast states to match the west, where legalized cannabis is allowed from the US-Mexico border the US-Canada line. Canada’s national legalization last October has already put the country far ahead in the global cannabis market. Mexico is looking to soon follow suit, having already declared the prohibition of recreational use unconstitutional, and proposing new legislation to legalize with support from both houses of Mexican congress. Mexico’s new progressive president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has spoken in favor of reform and is likely to sign the proposal into law.
With both coasts and either side of the border likely to have legal cannabis in the next 2-3 years, the pressure for the US to legalize, and subsequently build a nationalized cannabis market is extremely high.
As mentioned, the east coast is key the national expansion. Massachusetts cannabis sales topped $9.3M in just the month of sales. This is an incredible feat, considering the majority of revenue came from just two shops. Comparatively, Colorado sales in 2014 hit $14m in the first month, selling out of 59 dispensaries. Profit potential has not been not lost on neighboring New Jersey and New York, the latter of which has already laid out plans to fund subway renovations using legalized pot taxes. There is high likelihood that both states will see their cannabis ambitions put into action. While the timeline of rollout may vary, the fact that it will happen feels all but inevitable.
The other east coast powerhouse in the equation is Florida, where Gov. Rick DeSantis has spoken in support of allowing flower to be sold for medical use. Many feel that full legalization of adult-use cannabis in Florida is likely in the years to come (though will probably take a few more election cycles). Once this happens, the middle states along the east coast are expected to progress like dominoes. Georgia has already seen numerous decriminalization reforms in major cities, and medical cannabis conversations are finally starting in North and South Carolina. The latter is notable as it was introduced in the South Carolina house and senate both by Republican legislators, echoing a larger shift towards bipartisan medical cannabis support.
Is a National System Possible?
In regard to cannabis reform on a national scale, currently up for consideration is the STATES Act, cosponsored by four legislators (one from either side of the aisle in both the house and senate) seeks to deschedule cannabis through strengthening the 10th amendment – by allowing states to set the legality of cannabis themselves. This legislation would remove federal scheduling for cannabis and open the door to interstate commerce among legalized states, the way that alcohol is allowed to move across state lines.
While a system of interstate commerce is likely at some point (even needed, as many states are currently dealing with a surplus of cannabis, while other states have a deficit), many wonder what it would take to make a standardized, national system possible. Even the alcohol market, seen almost as part of our national identity, is not uniform everywhere. Colorado only recently ceased regulations surrounding beer sales, and cannabis legislators make new regulations every six months. Getting an already divisive industry to agree is going to be a tremendous feat.
A Path to Follow
The United States won’t be entering the territory of national legalization alone. Canada’s national system offers a model both to follow and learn from. Much like Colorado and other states allowing adult-use, cannabis is tracked from cultivation to commercial sale and that tracking is reported to a central oversight body. Each private business is responsible for monthly reporting their tracking to the relevant state oversight board, who then issues province reports to larger government. This system is intended to keep legal cannabis from being sold on the black market, and vice versa.
This system and similar systems in US states have been generally successful for those that implement them, however not without flaw. The regulatory systems of many legalized states have resulted in extreme excesses of product, which then often makes its way to the black market, or must be destroyed, heavily costing producers. On the flip side, the roll out of Canada’s legal market quickly saw shortages, as supply could not meet demand. Whatever regulatory steps are implemented, they are likely to be problematic for some time until they can be analyzed and improved.
Some states are ahead of others in making these assessments, and public opinion is difficult to sway without experience. This could prove to be problematic for the STATES Act, however, there are other bills in play. In February, Senator Cory Booker reintroduced the Marijuana Justice Act with Senate support from many of his fellow hopeful 2020 presidential candidates and Congressional support from two Democratic members of the house from California, reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna. While the act is likely to die in the Republican-controlled senate, where majority leader Mitch McConnel has said he “[does] not have any plans to endorse the legalization of marijuana.” Despite such roadblocks, more sweeping legislation like the Marijuana Justice Act are expected to be put forth, and offer a more plausible path towards a national system on a more even playing field.
Creating a Unified Cannabis Industry
The largest blockage to implementing national cannabis standardization comes from a lack of unified effort. Though numerous states are starting to offer reciprocity to other select states with established medical cannabis systems, larger cooperative efforts have yet to materialize.
The seeds of a movement are there, however. At expositions and conferences across the states, new alliances are being forged that will help set out the path of cannabis in America. Events have started to act as the symposiums for cannabis markets to come. As the nation’s largest commerce hub and both the most densely populated and visited city in America, New York is primed to become the defacto hub of cannabis in the North East once it legalizes, despite Massachusetts being first in the door. Gatherings of this caliber offer industry up-and-comers a chance to learn, network and innovate together, and help to create a more unified understanding of cannabis.
By being able to take the pulse of multiple current cannabis markets while looking towards the future, cannabis business events offer rare insight. Many industry professionals are amazed to learn the stark differences that can exist even between similar established cannabis scenes, like Colorado and California. Without coming together, such differences would be difficult to note across disparate markets, much less while experiencing the cutting edge of products and technology that the industry has to offer. These products often become the trendsetters for the upcoming cycle of cannabis fashions, and give innovators a leg up by knowing what to watch for. The combined perspective of where the industry is at and where it is headed is invaluable to those looking to hold on to a place in the growing market. Expos also offer those looking to make more significant moves in the industry an opportunity to network, collaborate and invest in projects early on in development.
Next Steps for the Cannabis Industry
If you’re attending upcoming cannabis events, keep an eye out for the three biggest trends in cannabis most likely to take off on a national scale:
Vape Pens and Cartridges
Easily the fastest growing in popularity for consumption methods, especially more casual smokers, vape cartridges have taken off thanks to their convenience, discretion and portability. Vaped CBD is becoming a fast substitute too, as many people are looking to ditch nicotine nationwide. And while smoking flower is a hot topic of debate in many legalized medical-use states, vape oils are almost universally allowed. They are a high contender for one of the first items to be standardized if a national system is put in place.
The availability of CBD products has grown exponentially in recent years, and the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill ensures the trend will continue. CBD has made its way into a stunning number of delivery methods beyond the standard cannabis fare, from water to toothpicks. The market faces a potential oversaturation for those that ignore innovation and quality in an effort to cash in, but those who can stay ahead of trends and think long term have the potential to enter the ground floor on what is likely to become a staple good in future markets.
Legalization has brought with it increased access to advanced scientific equipment and methodologies for cannabis processing. In addition, modern cannabis enthusiasts seek more efficient, clean and potent cannabis preparations. This combination has driven a stark rise in the popularity of concentrates. In addition to being easier to vaporize, modern concentrate preparations offer craftsmanship on an artisanal level, with potency and flavor profiles never before seen in the industry. Concentrates offer something to every level of cannabis enthusiast, from novice to advanced consumers – a versatility rarely found in other cannabis products. National legalization is likely to attract even more scientific and creative power to what has become the cutting edge of cannabis for connoisseurs.
Product Uniformity on a National Scale
Before the trends above sweep the nation, legislators and industry professionals will need to come together to create a slew of standardizations for a national market. Regulations have to be set for sourcing, testing, labeling and packaging before a standardized system can be built. From there, states would be able to implement their own specialized regulations surrounding sales as they see fit. This is the primary reason that Canada’s legalization roll-out saw numerous delays. However, as our neighbor to the north has shown, it can be done, and done effectively. Though it will encounter growing pains, once a standardized system is established, it opens the door to both national and international markets. If the cannabis industry can come together, it’s likely to happen much sooner.
With movement from both ends of the political spectrum, it is easy to see that the national climate towards cannabis is changing. Whether it is championed for its medicinal attributes, as an economic driver, or an expression of liberty, the majority of the American populace supports cannabis reform and legalization. While both the STATES act and the Marijuana Justice Act are likely to face defeat in the Senate, we are sure that politicians have taken notice. It is currently legal to use cannabis in Washington, D.C. and the fact is not lost upon the voting public. One can only imagine what will be possible tomorrow, next week, next year.
What are your thoughts on the possibility of a national cannabis market in the United States? Share them in the comments below!