The year 2020 could be called the year of mixed blessings. It saw plenty of fear and uncertainty as COVID-19 ran rampant. It saw anger over lockdowns. It saw new rules governing where people can go and what they can wear on their faces. And unfortunately, it saw too many deaths.
At the same time, 2020 also has worked out well for the cannabis industry, especially in Washington. Along with liquor stores, cannabis businesses were declared essential in the spring by Gov. Jay Inslee as lockdowns began. Besides providing employment for thousands, these shops and growers likely contributed to adults having easy legal access to items to help get them through the tough times. It also contributed to a nice bottom line for many businesses. While there’s hope that 2021 will bring things “back to normal,” at least from a public health perspective, many hope this economic boost will be the newer norm.
The end of a year and the start of another is a fine opportunity to look back as well as forward to interesting topics that played a role in 2020 and will likely continue in 2021 at a state and a national level.
More members. The Green Rush is still running strong, and Election Day brought even more states into the “legal cannabis” community: Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota. South Dakota is also the first state to approve medical and recreational at once; in the past, votes on medical marijuana have come first, to test the waters, in a way.
Now, 1 in 3 states have some cannabis program in place or under development. There are now 15 states that allow both adult-use and medical marijuana, while an additional 22 states have legalized medical only. This balance won’t change in 2021, although citizens in other states that were unsuccessful in their initiatives have vowed to return in 2022, including Idaho and Missouri.
More funds. Cannabis appears to still be gaining momentum in terms of financial impact to businesses as well as states. For instance, Washington has seen record sales and record taxes paid to the state. According to 502data.com, February tax numbers were a respectable $35.1 million, jumping to $42.6 million in March and a record $47.9 million for May. The states that recently added or expanded their access also expect to gain plenty for their respective coffers.
More collaboration/celebrity involvement. It didn’t come as a surprise to many that pot-friendly stars came out early to support cannabis and perhaps attach their name to a brand or strain. That’s why Willie’s Reserve, from one of America’s most outspoken cannabis fans, Willie Nelson, has been around for nearly five years, not to mention brands from Snoop Dogg and Tommy Chong.
This year saw either new strains or involvement from big names, like Jay-Z, who released his own cannabis line called Monogram, and Gwyneth Paltrow, who invested in Cann, a Canadian cannabis-infused beverage company. Athletes are also are getting into the fun, including former basketball player Shawn Kemp, who opened a store in downtown Seattle, and soccer player Megan Rapinoe, who promotes her twin sister’s CBD company Mendi.
More CBD. Even in the “legal” states, only those 21 and older can buy cannabis products and you may need. But CBD allows anyone, in any state, to get some of the benefits of cannabis without THC, the compound that causes physical and mental changes and is responsible for cannabis-based restrictions. CBD products are now showing up in food, herbal supplements, oil, lotion and more, and not just at specialty or health stores. States are trying to create safety rules for these because CBD products fall somewhere between health products and food products. In 2021, expect to see more clarification from government agencies like the FDA.
Policy shifts. Cannabis advocates were proud of several bills making it to Congress. Although none made it out of the Senate, incredible progress has been made. This includes modifications to banking laws. Although the predicted shift in balance of both houses didn’t happen, advocates hope that some of the shifts may work out in their favor. NORML, one of the more organized voices, has maintained that cannabis reform should be thought of as a bipartisan effort that more people are in favor of. A new presidential administration may be more inclined to push for improvements in legalization.
Social equity. Although cannabis has been legal for more than five years in some states, minority ownership remains low. Sometimes obstacles are financial such as the high bar to start a business and acquire licenses. Sometimes it’s legal, such as past convictions. Various efforts are taking place to change this imbalance. Washington is looking into offering unused smaller-tier grower licenses to underrepresented groups. The Liquor and Cannabis Board also has a committee that has been studying the topic, as well as the Washington State Legislative Task Force on Social Equity in Cannabis. This latter group began meeting at the end of October and includes 18 members from different government and cannabis communities.
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