As we rapidly approach the end of the year, it is important to take stock of the many milestones that have been reached, both in and out of the marijuana industry.
If you have been keeping your finger on the pulse of the cannabis movement in America, you would know that more progress has been made in the last six years than in all the rest of the years combined. Before we take a look at the "state" of legal cannabis in America today, we should go back to the very beginning, so we can really grasp the full scope of the industry and how it got to where we are now.
California. The state that started it all.
It is important to give credit where credit is due, and, in this case, it happens to belong to California, a trailblazing state that took a big risk and put the spotlight on the importance of medical marijuana use in the U.S.
Back in 1996, the State of California became the first in the nation to approve the use of medical marijuana for numerous terminal and life threatening illnesses (one could argue that today California is the home of the largest/most influential cannabis market in the whole world, even more so than Amsterdam).
Despite the fact that California was the only one to do so, many states quickly followed and it planted the seed that has blossomed into an industry that covers nearly every state in the country.
Not long after California's major legislative victory, Oregon, Alaska and Washington quickly passed their own medical marijuana laws which went into effect in 1998. Nevada also tried to join the club, but was not able to pass the initiative until the year 2000.
Between the years 2000 and 2012, a total of 11 more states joined the ranks of those that had approved marijuana for medical use and they are as follows: Colorado, Maryland, Vermont, Montana, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Michigan, New Jersey, Arizona, Delaware, and Connecticut.
It was not until 2012 when the cannabis movement began to really take off, as Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the adult-use of marijuana, meaning anyone over the age of 21 could buy cannabis for personal use in a retail setting. It also allowed residents to grow plants in their own homes and levied significant taxes on the products, to be used to fund education and make improvement to infrastructure statewide.
Currently, there are 33 states with medical laws allowing cannabis as treatment for a long list of illnesses, and 11 states plus the District of Columbia that have created adult-use cannabis markets.
Who Will Be Next?
While nothing is ever a sure thing until the votes have been counted, there are some pretty good indicators as to which states will be the next to create adult-use markets. Unfortunately, this is the type of progress we can expect as the likelihood of full legalization by the federal government is slim, or at the very least, a long time away.
Arizona - the first one that comes to mind is Arizona. After several attempts by Arizonans For Responsible Drug Policy to prevent a vote on adult-use cannabis in the upcoming election, a recent ruling all but guaranteed that the initiative will make it on the ballot and Arizonans will have the chance to make it a reality in just a few short months. Keep in mind, despite having some of the most archaic drug laws in the country, Arizona has a vast medical marijuana program already in place, making the transition to adult-use the next logical step.
Montana: According to the Secretary of State's Office, the State of Montana has certified an initiative to be included on the November ballot that would legalize a recreational marijuana program and set up an adult-use market that would allow the sales of smokable cannabis. The new laws would also levy a 20% tax on the sale of cannabis. It is important to note that this initiative was citizen driven and backed by the group, New Approach Montana.
New Jersey: Out of all the potential states to pass laws allowing recreational cannabis, New Jersey is definitely the most important. Due to the fact that it borders New York, it will put enormous pressure on Governor Cuomo to pass similar laws. He has made it very clear that he does not want to lose out on the revenue that would be generated by residents of New York crossing the border to purchase marijuana.
Cuomo has a valid concern here because the data coming out of the State of Massachusetts shows that the overwhelming majority of their sales are to New Yorkers who have traveled to Mass. with the purpose of purchasing cannabis and returning back home to New York.
Not long ago, the New York Post ran a story talking about how people were carpooling from NY to MA, taking Ubers, and doing whatever they could to get their hands on the highly coveted legal marijuana.
Maine: After passing their own recreational cannabis laws back in 2016, the State of Maine is finally moving forward with the opening of the adult-use market. Beginning on Sept. 8, Maine will approve licenses for recreational cannabis businesses in the state. Oct. 9th will be the first day that legal sales of cannabis can begin to residents over the age of 21.
How Are Adult-Use Markets Doing During COVID-19?
By and large, the 11 legal markets operating in the U.S. have been doing really well, despite all the turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people thought that the extended lockdowns and shuttering of countless retail businesses would spill over to the cannabis industry, however the sales data coming out of each state tells a much different story.
Colorado: Sales figures show $158 million for June recreational cannabis sales, setting a new record for the state. Recreational cannabis markets have been open for business since January of 2014.
Oklahoma: Newly released figures show that medical marijuana sales in the State of Oklahoma are on pace to double the 2019 numbers. Two interesting facts worth mentioning are that 1 out of 8 adults in Oklahoma now has a medical marijuana license (more than 5% of the state) and there are more dispensaries per capital in Oklahoma than California! The medical marijuana program has far exceeded even the most grandiose projections by experts in the state and industry.
California: An announcement made earlier this month highlights just how big the recreational market in California has become, as officials mark the states' two biggest months of sales since its inception in 2018. Both March and July saw sales in excess of $330 million (March total was $332 million and July was $348 million).
As you can see, the cannabis industry in America is on fire and growing exponentially. It is a shame that the federal government is against the rescheduling and legalization of marijuana. However. advocates and entrepreneurs alike can continue to make progress everyday and hopefully one day every citizen of this country will have the same access to high quality medicine as those who do now.