Here we are entering a new year. Finally, many states in the United States have agreed to legalize adult-use cannabis either through medical or adult-use programs. In 2021, we saw Connecticut, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York and Virginia all legalize adult-use, bringing the total to 18 states that now allow adult-use and 36 for medical use.
State-led initiatives have been the backbone for this emerging industry. Yet, it’s the advocates who are moving the ball forwards through education, research and real-world case studies showing the benefits cannabis can have across many medical ailments. These grassroots efforts must stay vigilant and persist considering the slow progress on the Federal government level.
It isn’t so much a matter of “if” Washington will legalize cannabis, but a matter of “when.” There has been some progress with the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act to end the federal criminalization of cannabis. Also, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, allowing cannabis businesses to work with traditional financial institutions was established and introduced. In 2021, the number of cannabis-focused advocacy groups on the Hill multiplied and large public companies like Amazon even turned their attention, and lobbying dollars, towards cannabis issues too.
Unfortunately, these two significant bills mentioned above are moving slowly through the political process and will take a concerted effort to get them across the finish line any time soon. It’s a delicate balancing act that will continue for the foreseeable future as we navigate our way through regulation and compliance issues.
I live in New York, and over the last several months watching counties and municipalities opt-in or opt-out for dispensaries and consumption sites has been fascinating. The Rockefeller Institute of Government has created a Marijuana Opt-Out Tracker. The data shows – 730 out of 1,521 municipalities opt-out of dispensaries and 830 out of 1,521 opt-out for consumption sites. You can see the opt-out number is relatively high. The insights show local municipalities are taking a wait-and-see approach, seeing how the initial rollout goes, and then opt-in later.
The data doesn’t correlate for me because if you look at a recent Gallup poll, 68% of adults in the United States approve of cannabis and 18% of Americans admit to using it, up from 10% in 2005.
There is still a disconnect that will require ongoing advocacy and education/research to present fact-based data that cannabis is safe to consume in moderation. Cannabis consumers should have the ability to purchase cannabis products from legal and regulated industry infrastructure in their town and not have to travel over an hour to get products from another location.
I have been in the cannabis industry since late 2017. Over the last four years, the industry has matured across many fronts, including new consumer products, processing technologies, dispensary formats and buying channels. However, I believe ongoing advancements from advocates, new manufacturing processes and technology platforms will lead the cannabis industry into a fully functional marketplace that is regulated and taxed relatively like any other industry.
As the adage goes, all good things are worth waiting for, and a high percentage of global adult individuals want to move forward with cannabis in their lives. Once we start categorizing cannabis as a wellness product and not a gateway drug, we will see both government and industry move quicker together.