Marijuana legalization continues to spread. It’s already legal for adults in nine states (including California, the nation’s most populous), and medical marijuana is legal in 30. Canada goes legal next Wednesday, and we could see two more medical marijuana states, Utah and Missouri, and two more legalization states, Michigan and North Dakota, on Election Day. And New Jersey is on the path to legalizing it via this legislature by year’s end—if all goes well.
The biggest impact of marijuana legalization has to be in the criminal justice system, where hundreds of thousands of people who would have been arrested for pot possession were not arrested, and will not be arrested. But marijuana is also now a big legal business, with recent research reports estimating the industry will reach the $20 billion mark by 2025.
And legal marijuana is having a disruptive impact on any number of economic sectors, from advertising to farming to booze, and more. Public and private investment in new forms of ingestible marijuana is up, marijuana startups are popping up everywhere, and financing for pot companies more than doubled last year. Meanwhile, more traditional industries, including medicine, banking, agriculture, and others, are beginning to incorporate marijuana into their products and business strategies.
There’s also been a large uptick in public and private investment in new, safer forms of ingestible marijuana, while cannabis startups—focused on everything from therapeutic applications to cultivation techniques—are also cropping up. Financing to cannabis companies more than doubled in 2017.
The good folks at the market analysis and intelligence firm CB Insights have taken a close look at where the impact of marijuana legalization is most likely to be felt. Below are 10 economic sectors CB Insights identifies as being altered by legal weed.
1. Health Care.
Marijuana is revolutionizing the way some ailments are treated, from forms of epilepsy to chronic pain—and beyond. The FDA recently approved the use of CBD to treat two forms of epilepsy. States that have legalized medical marijuana report falling rates of opioid prescriptions. Marijuana’s cannabinoids, CBD in particular, are drawing increasing attention from researchers, as they examine its potential for treating other conditions, including neuropsychiatric disorders, anxiety, and cancer. And CBD is just one of more than a hundred cannabinoids contained in the plant, leaving plenty more exploring to do for researchers seeking medical applications for the plant.
With the spread of legal medical marijuana and its use to treat pain, anxiety, sleep disorders, and other medical conditions, the pharmaceutical industry is likely to take a big hit—as much as $4 billion a year, according to a University of Georgia study. That’s why a number of pharmaceutical companies are moving to incorporate marijuana into their strategies. Just in the past month, Sandoz Canada became the first major pharmaceutical company to affiliate with a marijuana producer. And then there are firms such as GW Pharmaceutical, which recently made history when the FDA approved its full-plant prescription drug Epidiolex.
3. Wellness & Beauty.
With the spread of legalization, marijuana is becoming more openly integrated into consumer products, especially those focused on health and beauty, with CBD oil in particular attracting a lot of attention. Its proponents claim it offers relief from pain, anxiety, and depression, as well as possessing anti-inflammatory and anti-acne properties. It’s making its way into beauty and makeup products as well, including mascara and lip balms. CBD oil also has potential applications for athletes and people looking to boost workout performance. Lord Jones, for example, makes a popular body lotion to soothe “sore muscles, joint pain, and skin conditions.”
Who knew? Marijuana legalization has been big business for the packaging industry. Packaging for pot products is highly regulated, typically with requirements for tamper-proofing, resealable odor-resistant bags, and opacity. The multitude of different marijuana products, with differing packaging requirements for different products, has also contributed to the rush of new companies entering the market, including manufacturers of innovative packaging products, such as tins, slide boxes, joint tubes, tamper-proof tincture bottles, and more.
Because marijuana remains federally illegal, the big nationwide banks that dominate the industry won’t touch pot industry money. That’s creating an opportunity for smaller, localized banks and credit unions to bridge the gap, and more than 400 local banks and credit unions have taken on marijuana-related clients—a number that has more than tripled since 2014. California even toyed with the idea of creating its own state-chartered bank to handle pot cash. That bill died, but if legalization spreads further without the federal government making room for pot banking, a state marijuana bank could become a reality.
The non-psychoactive variety of marijuana known as hemp is threatening to alter the landscape of the agriculture industry. It only requires half as much land as cotton to produce a ton of finished textiles, and hemp’s applications are seemingly endless. It can be used for clothing, durable textiles, rope, side panels in automobiles, building, and much, much more. Right now, the biggest market for hemp growers is CBD oil products, but that is going to change.
7. Billboard Advertising.
Legal pot has been a real boon to the billboard industry, in part because state laws limit signage at retail locations and in part because marijuana gets excluded from paid advertisements on social media platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter. In Los Angeles, MedMen pioneered the use of mobile billboards, employing trucks wrapped in advertising to drive around the city. Billboards are old school, but they are relatively inexpensive, and they get a lot of eyeballs. The industry couldn’t be happier with legal pot.
Marijuana edibles are a big and growing business, too. Californians spent $180 million on marijuana-infused food and drinks last year, accounting for 10 percent of all pot sales in the state. That figure was up to 18 percent by early this year. It’s not just California, either: in Colorado, edible sales tripled from 2014 to 2016, while in Washington state, edible sales jumped 121 percent in 2016. Companies such as Colorado-based Dixie Elixirs are leading the way with product lines that include truffles, chocolate bars, mints, juices and many more, but expect plenty of competitors for this lucrative market to emerge.
For alcohol companies, marijuana is a competitor, but it could also be a solution for declining global sales. Beer, wine, and spirits companies are looking to expand their offerings through marijuana-infused beverages. Constellation Brands (Corona Beer) just invested $4 billion in Canada’s Canopy Growth Company, while British spirits maker Diageo (Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker, Guinness, and Baileys) has been holding talks with at least three other Canadian pot producers. Also, various cannabis beverage companies are looking to rival beer, and beer companies are taking note, partnering with pot businesses to create special brews.
While marijuana legalization means less work for prosecutors and defense attorneys, it also means more work for attorneys who specialize in the intricacies of state marijuana laws. The National Cannabis Bar Association, founded in 2015, now has 400 members, and law firms are shifting their practices to focus on the industry. With tight, closely written regulatory regimes, state marijuana laws are fertile ground for attorneys who can help businesses navigate the hurdles.
This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.