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Push Toward Legalizing Marijuana

A Renewed Push Toward Legalizing Marijuana in 2017

In 2016, roughly 60% of Americans said they favored the legalization of recreational marijuana, as the industry gained support in invalidating the war on drugs and seven states voted to legalize pot for recreational or medical use.

It was a watershed year for weed. The industry took significant steps in solidifying the market, demonstrating its earnings potential, while advocates fought to debunk the stigmas tied to consumption and argue that states can use it help plug budget holes. In Colorado, where marijuana is legal for recreational use, total revenue from marijuana taxes, licenses and fees came to $72.8 million, as of October 2016.

But for all that was accomplished, there were setbacks. Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election and though he has said he?s in favor of medical marijuana and states’ rights, he is nominating Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions as the next U.S. Attorney General. Sessions is famously anti-weed and has said marijuana is a very real danger.

And in Massachusetts, where voters legalized the recreational use and sale of marijuana in November, lawmakers have voted to delay the opening date of retail marijuana stores until at least January 2018. No public hearings or office notice were given. Maine, which also voted to legalize, has called for a recount and lawmakers are trying to delay the initiative from taking effect.

Heading into 2017 the industry has 2,966 medical dispensaries and 3,973 retailers across the country, with more than 4,200 marijuana cultivators, according to a published report on marijuana licenses conducted by research firm Cannabiz Media.

The industry still has some obstacles and growing pains to overcome, but will look to grow, mature and make a bigger impact in 2017. Here are some trends and issues to keep an eye on heading into next year.

Marijuana supporters make push for federal acceptance

Just ahead of the Nov. 8 election, Adam Bierman, chief executive of cannabis management services company MedMen, told MarketWatch no matter which way the presidential election swung, the industry would look to chip away at the federal barrier in 2017.

Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and classified as a Schedule I drug along with heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

Starting next year the plan is a full-court press on federal law changes, Bierman said in November.
It’ll take some time, about four to eight years, experts expect but Bierman said the industry is already lobbying, paying for its efforts and getting its ducks in a row.

Still, there are concerns about Sessions and the Republican-run congress. The incoming government has been anything but welcoming to changing the federal law, but with 60% of Americans on its side, and the recent votes in California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine, the marijuana industry is hoping Sessions and Trump?s administration will adhere to the wishes of the American majority.

Research will be expanded

The future of the marijuana industry in America, particularly its future in federal regulation, depends on continued research into its effects and cannabinoid makeup. More research will help the industry make a stronger case not just that marijuana isn’t harmful as opponents say, but that it has benefits as well.

The Drug Enforcement Administration, while it declined to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act back in August, did make access easier for research, upping the number of authorized manufacturers that supply the substance to researchers.

This change illustrates the DEA?s commitment to working with the FDA and NIDA to facilitate research concerning marijuana and it?s components, the federal agency wrote in its August news release.

A pro sports league backs marijuana use

Professional sports leagues and marijuana use have a somewhat contentious history. And as states began legalizing marijuana, the relationship with pro sports became even more complicated. Players, supporters and fans wanted to know whether players in legal states would be punished for testing positive. They were.

There is change afoot, however. Tarek Tabsh, chief strategy officer at Forma Holdings which acquires and helps build cannabis-related companies, said he expects there to be a shift in marijuana acceptability in sports in 2017. Bierman at MedMen went so far as to say one of the major sports leagues in the U.S. will approve the use of marijuana.

The National Football League is already having conversations on changing its marijuana rules, according to Ian Rapoport. The league, per 10 team owners, is re-evaluating its stance on medical and recreational use.

And in early December Steve Kerr, former Chicago Bulls point guard and current Golden State Warriors head coach, said he used marijuana in 2015 when he was recovering from back surgery.

Microdosing will become the new (best) way to consume

While smoking marijuana in plant form think traditional blunts, joints, bongs and pipes is still the most popular way to consume the drug, Cy Scott, co-founder of Leafly and market intelligence firm Headset, said it has been losing favor to pre rolls, vapor pens and edibles. One of the chief reasons for this is convenience.

Things like edibles are much easier to consume, they don?t take as much work, especially for people who are new to marijuana. The problem is that they tend to have a relatively high dosage of THC, marijuana?s main psychoactive property, with effects that lag. People end up taking too much, too quickly, either because they don?t know about that effect, or because they don?t feel the effects quickly and take more. And there?s no standard across the industry or states.

In states like Washington, the legally defined dose is 10 milligrams, but there are some companies like Seattle?s SPOT and Goodship that are going for much lower doses in their edibles, as low as 2.5 milligrams in some cases.

Companies are doing a poor job right now of educating consumers, but I think they?ll start doing much better in 2017,? Scott said. Microdosing is definitely becoming a trend moving forward and it can?t come soon enough.

Big business; big investments

This trend comes from the school of if you can?t beat them, join them. Some industry experts expect to see a rise in big companies testing the waters of the marijuana industry.

Don?t expect products from these companies soon, Scott said, not until there are changes at the federal level at least. There are cannabis-infused drinks in development, however. But it?s likely instead that beverage, tobacco, pharmaceutical and increasingly biotech companies will look to gauge the market and even make some investments and partnerships.

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