I think we can all agree that this year was disappointing for everything (mostly democracy), so we’re more than happy to throw it out like the trash it is. However, cannabis had great year — the industry is growing at a crazy rate, everyone is making money and public support is at an all-time high. So if you’re hoping that 2019 is the year that you’ll finally be a wealthier, less stressed person, then you might want to consider working or investing in the cannabis industry. Because anything that can come out of 2018 looking better than it did during the pre-Trump era is something we should be paying attention to, and for cannabis advocates, entrepreneurs and consumers, things are just getting started.
Canada legalizes it
Canada became the second nation in the world to end prohibition after Uruguay, and the first G7 country to pass a nationwide recreational cannabis program. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered on a campaign promise when the country’s Parliament voted in June to legalize recreational cannabis for adult use. The new market launched in October, spurring a rampant supply shortage across the country and the creation and growth of several huge publicly traded cannabis companies. Analysts believe Canada will see sales of $4.34 billion in 2019.
U.S. ends hemp prohibition
President Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill last week, which legalizes industrial hemp after decades of the crop being caught up in broader cannabis prohibition. Cannabis plants must contain less than 0.3 percent THC in order to be classified as hemp and it is explicitly removed from the list of federally banned drugs under the Controlled Substances Act. Hemp legalization is all thanks to an unlikely ally: Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, who championed the bill after including provisions that fully legalized industrial hemp. He was so thirsty for everyone to know how down he is with hemp that he tweeted photos of himself signing documents using a hemp pen. The bill received bipartisan support, which brings us to our next trend.
Conservatives chill out, slightly
As cannabis legalization becomes less controversial, support for reform transcends party lines. At this point, federal legalization is inevitable. It’s no longer just a social issue: even among Trump voters, only 18 percent believe cannabis should be illegal, according to an America First Policies poll. Now that there’s a lot of money involved and they stand to lose voters by stubbornly holding onto to their stance against it, conservatives are starting to chill. In April, former Speaker of the House John Boehner announced he’s “all in on the cannabis industry,” which he promises can “quite possibly” be worth as much as “$1 trillion” in the near future. He joined the advisory board of the cannabis company Acreage Holdings, which was weird to everyone that remembers him saying he was “unalterably opposed” to cannabis legalization nine years ago. Voters in Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah all overwhelmingly approved medical cannabis ballot measures this year while at the same time voting to elect Republicans to the U.S. Senate or nominate conservative candidates for statewide office. Welcome, red state stoners, there’s plenty of room in the circle for everyone.
The movement spreads
Ten states and Washington, D.C. currently have recreational cannabis programs, and 33 states have medical ones. Cannabis-related companies raised nearly $13.8 billion so far this year, compared to just $3.5 billion in 2017, according to data from Viridian Capital Advisors, a financial and strategic advisory firm for the cannabis industry. With a record 66 percent of Americans now supporting cannabis legalization according to an October Gallup poll, the outlook is favorable to seeing close to half the nation’s states with recreational programs in place in the short-term future. Vermont legalized adult-use cannabis through its state legislature. Michigan became the first state in the midwest with a ballot measure to replace cannabis prohibition with a legal and regulated system of cultivation and sales approved by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent.
California and Massachusetts finally made it official
In January, California’s much-anticipated recreational market opened. The initial issues — slow issuing of licenses, burdensome tax levels and an overly complicated regulatory system — caused sales to be lower than expected. However, the California cannabis market is still the biggest in the world, with Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics projecting annual sales of $7.7 billion by 2022.
In November, nearly two years after voters approved adult-use legalization, the first cannabis dispensaries opened in Massachusetts. Customers waited in long lines in cold, rainy New England weather to be among the first people to legally buy weed on the East Coast.
FDA approved first CBD drug, Epidiolex
Epidiolex, G.W. Pharma’s oral cannabidiol (“CBD”) solution for the treatment of seizures, became the first cannabis-based medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The twice-daily oral solution is now available by prescription in all 50 states. It is approved for use in patients 2 and older to treat two types of epileptic syndromes: Dravet syndrome, a rare genetic dysfunction of the brain that begins in the first year of life, and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a form of epilepsy with multiple types of seizures that begins in early childhood, usually between ages 3 and 5.
Colorado experiences another record-breaking year
During the first six months of 2018, cannabis concentrate unit sales skyrocketed 94.6 percent, and sales of edibles jumped 13.8 percent year over year. As a result, Colorado’s annual sales surpassed $1 billion in August, which is the earliest it has ever achieved that milestone. In its first year of legalization, Colorado reported almost $684 million in cannabis sales. Last year, Colorado’s full-year sales were a record $1.5 billion and the numbers aren’t official yet, but experts estimate that 2018 sales in Colorado could reach $1.6 billion.