Looking back at 2017, the cannabis industry has come a long way. Mexico legalized medical marijuana, Israel made a first step toward decriminalizing, California set up a still-developing program for legal marijuana, public support for legalization is higher than it’s ever been, and Jeff Sessions so far has been less a threat than people feared (fingers still crossed on that one). So looking forward, what can the cannabis industry and movement expect for 2018?
Like it or hate it, legalization means vague, underground business and cultivation practices will become a thing of the past as states hurdle toward a regulated, aboveground cannabis market. While in places like California, the black market is still alive and well (the state only consumes 2.5 of the 13.5 million tons of weed it produces), regulation threatens to put a dent in the noncompliant market. But even though the industry’s best players aim to be kosher, legitimate, and compliant with the law, the discrepancy between state and local policy puts many cannabis businesses in a murky, vulnerable grey zone. Unable to get state licensing without local licensing, and unable to get local licensing because of local bans on cultivation, many small businesses are in untenable circumstances and may have to shut down, due to their inability to jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops — due to a whole new web of state regulations.
The Green Rush on Steroids
With weed now legal in California, Los Angeles is the up-and-coming world capital of cannabis. The state’s new cannabis economy is worth $7 billion, and is expected to bring in $1 billion in annual tax dollars. Without a residency requirement in certain jurisdictions, Green Rush investors are able to enter the industry without having to even live where they operate their business. Depending on your perspective this could be good or bad: it’s a threat to pre-existing mom-and-pop business operators, but a natural force of capitalism, and a potential boon to the cannabis industry’s growth. Many, however, worry about the onslaught of “Walmart Weed” dominating the market share, and putting craft cannabis cultivators at risk of extinction.
More Public Support, Less Stigma
In some places, it seems like everyone and their mother (literally) are consuming cannabis. Weed moms are fast becoming the new wine moms, while even a majority of self-identified Republicans, according to the latest Gallup poll, support legalization. Cannabis is a bipartisan issue, gaining support across the aisle and across generations. The plant’s recent positioning as a wellness product makes it more attractive to baby boomers and older consumers who may otherwise have been put off by stoner stigma, or may not have had serious enough medical reasons to make the effort to get a medical marijuana recommendation. And the diversity of products that don’t even get you high — from topicals to CBD-only edibles — open up the market to many who would otherwise have excluded themselves.
Cannabis Will Become a Mainstream Political Issue
We already saw in New Jersey and Virginia this past year that successful gubernatorial candidates Phil Murphy and Ralph Northam made cannabis a mainstream issue in the election, without first having to be asked about it. Murphy pledged to legalize weed in his first 100 days of office, while Northam stated support for decriminalization so that it would be easier for doctors to study it. Going forward, with as much bipartisan support as legalization already has, mainstream political candidates in red and blue states, alike, may continue to address cannabis and legalization as an increasingly serious issue that more than a 60 percent majority of Americans support.