10 Things to Anticipate in the Cannabis Space in 2018
Predicting what will happen in the cannabis world is very difficult to do from year to year. Every new year brings new opportunities for cannabis industry growth in states that have already reformed their cannabis laws, as well as the possibility of more states legalizing cannabis for adult and/or medical use.
This year was a big year for cannabis, despite not being an election year. Legal states are estimated to bring in $655 million in state taxes on cannabis retail sales by the end of 2017. The cannabis industry now employs as many as 230,000 people via full and part-time jobs. Youth cannabis consumption rates are not rising in the post-legalization era and other doomsday predictions made by cannabis opponents prior to legalization are proving to be unfounded as time goes on.
The cannabis movement’s momentum has never been greater than it is now, and that momentum will continue to build with no end in sight.
What will 2018 bring in regards to cannabis reform efforts and the cannabis industry? Below are 10 things to watch for in the new year.
1. More states will likely legalize cannabis for adult use
2018 is an election year, and at least one state is expected to vote on cannabis legalization. The Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol submitted 360,000 signatures in an effort to place adult-use legalization on the 2018 ballot. 70% of the signatures will need to be valid if the initiative is to be put in front of Michigan voters in November 2018.
If approved by Michigan voters, Michigan’s legalization initiative language, would:
- Legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis while not at an adult’s* residence, with up to 15 grams of that being concentrates
- Legalize possession of up to 10 ounces of cannabis at an adult’s residence, plus any cannabis that was legally cultivated at the residence
- Legalize the cultivation of up to 12 cannabis plants per each adult’s residence address
- Create a taxed and regulated system for adult-use cannabis sales
It’s quite likely that 2018 could see cannabis reform history made with the first-ever legalization of adult-use cannabis via legislative action. Vermont became the first state to see its legislature approve adult-use legalization via legislative action in 2017, however, the measure was vetoed by Vermont’s Governor.
Vermont Governor Phil Scott recently stated that he felt ‘comfortable’ with plans to legalize cannabis in early 2018. Such a move is far from guaranteed, but with strong support in Vermont’s Legislature and a Governor who now feels better about cannabis legalization in his state, it’s definitely something to watch for next year.
New Jersey is another state that appears to have a great chance of legalizing cannabis via legislative action in 2018. New Jersey’s outgoing Governor Chris Christie is one of the biggest cannabis opponents in the nation and has made it no secret that he would veto any cannabis legalization bill that came across his desk. Fortunately for the residents of New Jersey, there is a new Governor coming into office soon, and he strongly supports cannabis legalization. Incoming New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy made cannabis legalization a key part of his campaign leading up to his election victory and stated in his victory speech that he wants to see cannabis legalized in New Jersey ‘within 100 days of taking office.’
Whether or not New Jersey will actually pass a legalization bill within 100 days of Phil Murphy taking office is tough to say for sure, but it is a fairly safe bet that New Jersey will legalize cannabis by the end of 2018. What New Jersey’s legalization model would look like is not clear at this time, which is also true with the state of Vermont. Cannabis supporters will have to wait and see if/when either or both states approve a legalization bill.
2. More states will likely legalize cannabis for medical use
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 29 states have legalized cannabis for medical use. Washington D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico have also legalized medical cannabis. Some of those states have operating medical cannabis industries and others are in the rulemaking or implementation phase.
Seventeen other states have passed cannabidiol-specific (CBD) medical cannabis measures, but those are not included in the NCSL’s tally of medical cannabis states because CBD-specific laws are oftentimes merely symbolic. Only Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, and South Dakota prohibit all forms of medical cannabis.
One state has already qualified for a 2018 vote on medical cannabis. Oklahoma turned in enough valid signatures in 2016 to make a ballot, but not the 2016 ballot. The exact date on which Oklahoma voters will vote on medical cannabis is still undecided, but a vote will absolutely occur in 2018. Oklahoma’s Governor is currently mulling whether to place the initiative on the June 2018 primary ballot, or the 2018 general election ballot in November.
Utah is a state that has already legalized cannabis in CBD-only form. Utah was the first state to pass a CBD-specific measure (2014). A signature gathering effort, led by the Utah Patients Coalition, has been ongoing since June 2017. The effort has until April 15, 2018 to gather at least 113,143 valid signatures in order for the comprehensive medical cannabis initiative to be placed on the November 2018 ballot. The signature-gathering effort is well funded and is expected to be successful. A recent poll shows 73% support for medical cannabis legalization in Utah.
Multiple efforts have been underway in Missouri to put medical cannabis on the ballot in 2018. Missouri was very close to placing medical cannabis on the 2016 ballot, however, the campaign fell short by just 23 signatures. That endeavor, led by New Approach Missouri, is back for a 2018 effort. As of October 21st, New Approach Missouri was on pace to reach its goal of collecting roughly 265,000 signatures.
A second medical cannabis initiative in Missouri has stated that it has already gathered over 150,000 signatures, and if so, appears to be on its way to making the 2018 ballot. A third medical cannabis initiative is also gathering signatures in Missouri with the goal of making the 2018 ballot. It is unclear how many initiatives will be on the ballot in Missouri, but at least one of them is likely to be successful in doing so if not all three.
3. Support for cannabis nationwide will likely continue to increase
Gallup has been asking adults in the United States the following question since 1969 as part of its annual poll:
“Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?”
The results from the original poll conducted in 1969 were depressing. Just 12% of poll participants answered ‘yes’ to the poll question. From the late 1980’s into the mid-2000’s support slowly climbed. In 2006 the number of poll participants that answered ‘yes’ to the poll question was 36%.
With only a couple of exceptions, support has grown significantly year after year in the poll. Gallup’s poll this year found a record 64% of poll participants answering ‘yes’ to the poll question. One fact from the poll that particularly raised eyebrows was the jump in support among Republicans from just the year prior. For the first time in the poll’s history, a majority of Republicans answered ‘yes’ to the poll question, reflecting a 9% jump compared to the year prior.
The increased level of support for cannabis legalization has been paralleled in the last decade by the rise of the cannabis industry. The cannabis industry used to be a cottage industry and so it was easier for cannabis opponents to downplay industry successes. With the cannabis industry now operating legally at the state level in a growing number of states, the benefits of a legalized and regulated cannabis industry are undeniable.
A voter does not have to be pro-cannabis use to be pro-cannabis reform. Twelve percent of Americans self-identified as being a current cannabis consumer according to a separate Gallup poll, with 45% of poll participants stating that they had consumed cannabis at some point in their life. That’s obviously less than the 64% that support legalizing cannabis. As legalization continues to succeed and the industry continues to increase in size, support will continue to grow among demographics that have historically opposed cannabis reform.
4. Adult-use cannabis sales will begin in California and Massachusetts, more than doubling the size of the industry
Right now adult-use cannabis sales are occurring in Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, Alaska, and Nevada. Adult-use cannabis sales are expected to begin in California on January 1st of next year and in Massachusetts in mid-2018.
The combined population of all five states that currently allow adult-use sales is roughly 20.6 million people. The combined population of California and Massachusetts is over 46 million people. When adult-use sales begin in California and Massachusetts, the size of America’s cannabis industry is going to grow exponentially, and not just because of the size of California and Massachusetts’ combined populations.
California is the number one tourist destination in America, and as such, it will generate a considerable amount of cannabis sales from people that are visiting from prohibition states.
Massachusetts does not have nearly the population size that California does, but it is essentially going to be a cannabis industry island surrounded by a sea of prohibition states. The only other state on the entire East Coast that has legalized cannabis for adult use is the state of Maine, which shows no indication of an adult-use framework going into place any time soon due to a veto of a cannabis industry regulation bill by its Governor this year. Even when Maine begins allowing the selling of cannabis for adult use, it will not have a significant impact on Massachusetts’ market.
Boston is going to be a top destination for cannabis tourism, with people flooding in from surrounding states and beyond to make legal cannabis purchases. California and Massachusetts have more than twice the population as Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, Alaska, and Nevada, but their combined cannabis industry market sizes are going to more than double the size of the current adult-use market.
5. Colorado’s cannabis industry growth will start to level out
Colorado has the distinction of being the first state in America to legalize cannabis, beating out Washington State by a couple of hours. Not surprisingly, Colorado is also the first state to allow sales of cannabis for adult use. Adult-use sales began in Colorado on January 1, 2014. Washington did not start adult-use cannabis sales until July 2014.
A substantial reason why Colorado was able to begin sales sooner than Washington State is that whereas Colorado already had a regulated system in place for its medical cannabis industry, Washington did not. Having the framework already in place for medical cannabis sales gave Colorado a big edge in getting its adult-use industry off the ground faster.
Since 2014, both states have sold a tremendous amount of cannabis, but Colorado is still looked at by many as the national leader for adult-use cannabis. Colorado’s industry has generated a tremendous amount of revenue for the state of Colorado via taxes and fees. Below is a year-by-year breakdown:
- 2014 – $67,594,323
- 2015 – $130,411,173
- 2016 – $193,604,810
- 2017 (Jan-Oct) – $205,080,035
If current trends persist in November and December of this year, Colorado will finish out 2017 with roughly 246 million dollars in taxes and fees generated. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that the rate of state revenue growth in Colorado is slowing down and at some point, it will level out. When that becomes the case there will be year-to-year fluctuations going forward, but exponential growth will cease to occur. This will be a mathematical trend that will occur in every state that legalizes cannabis and ramps up its legal cannabis industry until it reaches capacity.
That’s not to say that Colorado’s industry is hurting. Colorado’s industry is very strong by every measure. However, exponential growth is unsustainable in any state and any industry, and eventually, Colorado’s cannabis industry will hit its ceiling. 2018 could be the first year that we see this occur in Colorado, especially with California and Massachusetts coming onboard with adult-use cannabis sales.
Colorado’s industry may be leveling out, but it is still a glowing example of how cannabis can be legalized and a regulated industry can be implemented with no major issues. Other states will continue to look to Colorado as a standard to emulate, and Colorado will continue to generate enormous sums of cannabis taxes and fees that help fund many state programs.
6. FDA approval of Epidiolex
In late 2017 GW Pharmaceuticals (based in London) submitted an application with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval for a pharmaceutical drug called Epidiolex. Epidiolex is a medicine designed as a treatment for seizures associated with two Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome (two types of epilepsy).
Unlike Marinol, which is a synthetic cannabis-type medicine, Epidiolex is plant derived. Marinol received approval from the FDA and is currently scheduled as a Schedule III substance. If Epidiolex receives approval from the FDA, it could be on sale across America by the end of 2018. An answer as to whether GW Pharmaceutical’s application was approved or denied is expected sometime in mid-2018..
An approval by the FDA for Epidiolex would have a major impact on the emerging cannabis industry as well as future reform efforts. As previously stated in this article, a number of states have approved CBD-only laws. A big argument against such laws is that they do not help people that need to use CBD, in that they often do not provide legal ways to obtain CBD products. That would obviously change with an approval for Epidiolex.
Cannabis supporters could (and should) certainly argue that medical cannabis programs should provide protection and safe access to the entire cannabis plant and its derivatives. However, it will be a harder sell to lawmakers and voters that are hesitant to embrace more comprehensive medical cannabis reform.
Makers of non-pharmaceutical CBD products will have to compete on an uneven playing field if/when Epidiolex is approved. Whereas non-pharmaceutical companies cannot export their products across state lines, GW Pharmaceuticals will be able to sell Epidiolex in pharmacies across America. Also, doctors will be encouraged to promote Epidiolex to patients during doctor visits, which is something that rarely occurs for non-pharmaceutical cannabis products.
GW Pharmaceuticals would be prevented from promoting Epidiolex for any other conditions other than Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, but clinical trials are underway to test Epidiolex on other conditions. CBD has been found to treat all types of conditions from traumatic brain injuries to nausea.
It’s quite possible that Epidiolex could be prescribed for a number of conditions in the near future. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Epidiolex if approved, could become a ‘go to’ cannabis product across America, which would obviously have a huge impact on the cannabis industry.
7. The cannabis industry will become more crowded
For a long time, the cannabis industry operated in grey areas of the law. As such, one of the main ingredients for success was simply being willing to take the risk of starting a cannabis company. Demand for cannabis has always been strong, but for a number of years, supply was limited. Those days are gone in legal states.
The level of competition in the cannabis industry is now at a fevered pitch, and will only continue to increase in the future. Oregon is the top example when it comes to the increased level of competition in the cannabis industry. Oregon does not have residency requirements for cannabis business license approval and does not have a cap on the number of licenses issued (although there are industry bans in some parts of Oregon).
As of December 4, 2017, Oregon had received 3,178 applications for cannabis business licenses. 1,814 of those were for cannabis producer licenses. 733 of the applications were for dispensary licenses. More and more people are jumping into the cannabis industry every day, which is reflected in every Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) license statistical update, as the OLCC also regulates Oregon’s cannabis industry.
Other legal states have a higher barrier to entry than Oregon does and have various policies in place that help limit the number of licenses that are issued. But California, which is going to be the biggest state for the cannabis industry by far, will be like Oregon in that it will not have a cap on licenses. Competition is going to be fierce in California as a result. Many pundits are already predicting an oversaturation of supply in California.
Even in states that do have more stringent cannabis industry license approval criteria, competition is still very strong for the limited number of licenses that are up for grabs. In states that have a limited number of licenses, or plan to if/when cannabis becomes legal, application fees are very costly and with no guarantee of winning one or more licenses.
The cannabis industry is the fastest growing, sexiest industry on the planet right now so it should be no surprise that so many people want in on the action. As with all industries, there will come a point in the cannabis industry where competition becomes so strong that entrepreneurs get pushed out of the industry because they can’t compete.
But, unlike many other industries that have grown at an exponential rate, the cannabis industry does not appear to be ‘on a bubble.’ With only five states allowing adult-use sales right now, the industry has a tremendous amount of room left to grow in size. Opportunities for entrepreneurs will be abundant throughout 2018 and beyond.
8. Canada will legalize cannabis, and Canadian companies will continue their head start in the international cannabis market
Ever since Justin Trudeau was installed as Prime Minister of Canada, there has been a push towards cannabis legalization. Trudeau campaigned on a platform that included cannabis legalization, and a goal date of July 1, 2018 was set for Canada to end cannabis prohibition. A legalization bill has already been passed by Canada’s House of Commons late November 2017.
The Senate is expected to pass legalization as well, but nothing is guaranteed. With that said, it would be a dramatic development if legalization stalled in Canada’s Senate given the way legalization has been progressing with our Northern neighbor. Canada’s provinces will each regulate cannabis in their own way with some similarities and overlap.
Unlike the United States, Canada has a national medical cannabis industry already in place. The largest cannabis companies in Canada dwarf the largest cannabis companies in America, and with legalization on the horizon, large Canadian companies will likely continue to grow in size.
Canadian companies are not only beating American companies at the national level, they are also gaining a huge head start on the international market. Canadian cannabis companies now export products to Australia, Brazil, Cayman Islands, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Malta, and New Zealand. Plans are also underway for exports to begin in South Africa in the near future.
The combination of a nationally regulated industry and the ability to legally export cannabis products give Canadian companies a distinct advantage over companies in the United States. Canadian companies are not just focused on business at home and on other continents. They are also jumping into the United States market, which creates further competition in the American market. Expect this to continue throughout 2018.
9. The cannabis consumer experience will continue to evolve
It wasn’t that long ago that being able to visit a dispensary to purchase cannabis was considered revolutionary. The cannabis consumer experience has continued to evolve throughout this decade, and 2018 should be a particularly ripe year for a cannabis purchasing experience revolution.
Cannabis tourism is not a new phenomenon, but it has certainly become more of a ‘thing’ as more states have rolled out legal adult-use cannabis sales and cannabis-friendly lodging options have increased via companies like Airbnb. This will continue throughout 2018. California is the top tourist destination in America, and with adult-use sales beginning in early 2018, more tourists are going to be planning their vacations around the legal cannabis experience.
Just as cannabis tourism is set to ramp up in 2018 in America, so too will cannabis delivery services increase in 2018. Cannabis deliveries have existed for several years now in various legal states, but as time goes by it will become a very common thing in states that allow legal cannabis sales. Just as people regularly get pizza and Amazon orders delivered to their homes because of the convenience factor, the same will be true for cannabis.
This year, the cannabis industry witnessed the opening of the first cannabis drive-thru in America. A dispensary named Tumbleweed opened the country’s first drive-thru dispensary in Parachute, Colorado in April of 2017. The drive-thru building was previously a carwash, which is an ideal location due to legal requirements of cannabis transactions taking place out of public view. Other drive-thru locations have popped up in Colorado and Nevada, and that is something that we will likely see more of in 2018.
Social cannabis consumption is something that is likely to spread in 2018. Denver became the first city in America to pass a measure legalizing social cannabis consumption in 2016. The law was implemented in 2017, and the City of Denver is now accepting applications for venues that wish to allow on-site cannabis consumption. Other parts of Colorado along with California, Alaska, and Oregon are considering similar reform measures, with a good chance of passage occurring in 2018.
Massachusetts is the only state so far to adopt a regulatory framework for social use. At the end of 2017 the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission voted unanimously to approve rules that would allow on-site cannabis consumption at venues such as ‘cannabis cafes’ and spas. Social-use regulations in Massachusetts have to be finalized by mid-March (2018), with cannabis businesses expected to open in Massachusetts in July 2018.
10. The demand for craft cannabis industry will continue to increase in 2018
The cannabis industry was a cottage industry for a number of decades, as stated previously in this article. The transition to a robust regulated cannabis industry has been tough for many cannabis industry veterans, with some being able to navigate the turbulent waters better than others. With enormous sums of investment dollars flooding the industry, it is becoming increasingly difficult for small cannabis companies to operate.
But, that’s not to say that there is no demand for quality cannabis products produced by smaller companies, often referred to as ‘craft cannabis.’ The term ‘craft’ has been applied to many products throughout the years. The craft beer industry is the most akin to the craft cannabis industry.
It will be harder to measure the size of the craft cannabis industry compared to the craft beer industry because the definition of what constitutes craft cannabis is much less concrete than it is in the alcohol industry. The alcohol industry defines craft breweries based on brewery size, the percentage of ownership by actual brewers, and the volume of product produced. Similar standards have not been adopted by the cannabis community so far, but they will eventually, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see it happen in 2018.
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