Part I: The Commercial Cannabis Industry and How it Impacts Communities
The days of marijuana transactions being conducted in back alleys and vacant parking lots are long behind us. The legalization of cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes comes with both advantages and setbacks.
One of the main advantages is that people can better manage conditions they may have been battling for years.
One of the primary disadvantages is that the industry went through a wild west era lacking regulation, followed by the tumultuous process of regulation we are now seeing by the Food and Drug Administration.
Countless companies selling CBD products that loosely (very loosely) adhere to state and local standards.
To reduce costs, several companies have disregarded the presence of contaminants. This is because lab testing would be an additional expense they may not want to incur.
But the future of the cannabis industry is changing fast not entirely filled with doom and gloom. False claims and inaccurate product labels from illegitimate cannabis companies aren’t deterring the unstoppable growth of the industry.
As stated in one of my favorite Star Wars movies, “Whenever there is the presence of darkness, the light rises to meet it.”
The more familiar you become with the CBD, Hemp and Cannabis industry, the more you’ll realize there are many brands that are top-rated. They separate from the pack by providing 3rd party independent lab results on their labels. But they also go above and beyond in terms of transparency, community engagement, and continued advocacy.
According to New Frontier Data, the sale of legal cannabis is projected to expand at a 14% annual growth rate over the next six years. That means the sale of cannabis and its related products will surpass $24 billion by the year 2025.
In most states across the country, medical marijuana serves as a natural and viable alternative to traditional medicine when managing numerous conditions like chronic pain or seizures. Additionally, marijuana (now that it’s decriminalized in many states) is poised to be the most preferred legal recreational substance behind alcohol and caffeine.
With stats like these, it’s no wonder that the commercial cannabis industry is viewed by many to be the next gold rush.
Competitors in the field of Commercial Cannabis
The commercialization of cannabis may include its cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, processing, testing, labeling, packaging, transportation, sale and everything in between from accounting to technology, office support, logistics and more.
There are various segments within the realm of commercial cannabis that are battling for their piece of market share.
One of the most commonly known gladiators in the arena of cannabis is the dispensary. In the past, cinematic depictions of them included a glassy-eyed cashier in a tie-dyed t-shirt standing under a Grateful Dead poster.
Today, the target audience for contemporary dispensaries is often the lifestyle, health oriented, or upscale customer that’s more sophisticated in the ways of marijuana. Locations such as Serra-Downtown in Portland are more like higher-end cosmetic boutiques than dimly lit stores with bongs and velvet paintings.
The New England Treatment Access location in Brookline, Massachusetts resembles the ornate lobby of Nordstrom or Bloomingdales instead of a traditional dispensary. Because the United States will eventually lead the charge in revenue from cannabis, it makes perfect sense that the most beautiful cannabis dispensaries are located here.
The appeal of elegant and lavish dispensaries is perfectly understandable. Walls with quality wood paneling and high-end strains of marijuana can make one feel as if he or she is buying an outfit at Prada or Dolce & Gabbana, not copping an ounce of bud in a vacuum-sealed sandwich bag.
If an individual or cohort doesn’t want to manage a dispensary, there are other ways to ride the monetary wave of commercial cannabis.
To stay viable in today’s marketplace, almost every product available in a traditional brick and mortar location is available online. Cars, mattresses, and entire bedroom sets can be purchased with the click of a button. You never have to leave the comfort of your own home.
That same level of convenience applies to the commercial cannabis industry.
Due to the capitalistic nature of the industry, there must be an increase in cannabis sales online as the field becomes more competitive.
The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 removed hemp from the list of Schedule I controlled substances and allowed it to be manufactured as an ordinary agricultural commodity. The result was an explosion in the demand for CBD oil and its related products.
The only way for many companies to remain viable was to incorporate or switch to a business model that allowed customers to purchase products online.
Online retailers of cannabis and CBD understand there’s a very high percentage of people who don’t want to get dressed, get in their car (or catch the bus), wait in line, buy their product, and slog all the way back home to get relief from their pain, inflammation or other condition.
They would much rather have products arrive at their doorstep. Any organization that doesn’t realize that fact will not be able to compete.
Cannabis and CBD aren’t the only ways for a business to cash in. They could also sell vape pens, vaporizer supplies, cartridges, topical creams, and tinctures in addition to CBD-infused food and beverages in states that allow them.
Many dispensaries have on staff “budtenders” who are employees or consultants who are very proficient in cannabis and its use. Many are current or former patients themselves who have accumulated a library of knowledge as a result of first-hand experience.
Providing education to customers is important because there are many people who are new to the realm of medicinal or recreational cannabis. They may not have an idea of how to navigate the broad sea of products and information.
There is also a market for educational seminars and classes that teach people about the various elements of health management using marijuana. Topics could cover PTSD, seizures, chronic pain, the needs of the elderly or even pets. Products could also be sold at these events or in conjunction with an online course.
Cannabis cultivators, growers, and companies that make devices for cannabis or CBD consumption are also reaping the benefits of the billions available. But at the end of the day, corporate responsibility should not end with a focus on how to generate profits.
Now that we have taken a few minutes to discuss the existing business opportunities, let’s talk about what is truly important. Any business can generate revenue and turn profit, but a well-rounded business in today’s world includes community outreach. Why? Because giving back is what drives our communities to grow and prosper.
How Commercial Cannabis Impacts the Community
Before states were flooded by the tsunami of revenue from the tax on cannabis sales, there were (and still are to some degree) many detractors and opponents to the legalization of marijuana.
Judging by the fact that almost every state has legalized the sale of cannabis, it’s evident that elected officials and their constituents have made their voices heard on the issue.
Statewide governmental officials are responsible for the regulation of the cannabis industry in their respective jurisdictions. This means that leaders on state and local levels must consider the impact the commercial cannabis industry has on their communities.
Below are some areas affected:
Cannabis Convictions and Expungements
Let’s be honest.
There is an insurmountable number of indigent people and minorities sitting in prison right now while the rest of the U.S. races to generate revenue from the very products our country criminalized and used to destroy disadvantaged and marginalized communities.
With the commercialization of cannabis, for the first time in decades, we are starting to see record numbers of expungements being made, along with arrests and convictions being thrown out in light of new legal measures and priorities. Illinois is one state wanting to lead by example, by offering to expunge up to 750,000+ records for those who qualify, and other states are expected to follow.
In addition, new licenses for dispensaries in Illinois are being geared to give additional points to Minority and Social Equity applicants who are interested in operating one of the new dispensary licenses that will be available in the state after January 2020. Applications for those dispensaries are now available. While these efforts for restitution may not feel like they are enough, they are a good start and example of what more we should collectively be working toward.
The Local Economy
One main reason marijuana was made legal in so many areas is that lawmakers realized there is an opportunity to generate a significant amount of revenue. That revenue can easily be used to fuel economic growth in cities and states. The state’s success can then be expanded to a national level.
There is also a burgeoning field of cannabis tourism where advocates and enthusiasts travel to different states to try different strains of marijuana.
Taxes and dispensary licensing fees will not only offset administrative costs and the expense of enforcement, but there will be additional revenue to be added to state coffers. This is what many would call a “win-win scenario.”
Public safety as it relates to marijuana is complicated.
There may be those who don’t want a dispensary in their neighborhood.
On the other hand, the unauthorized sale of marijuana and related activities pose a much bigger threat than a state-sanctioned dispensary.
Though not yet enforced by the Fed, the commercial cannabis industry does have land use and licensing standards in place on the state level. These standards govern fostering relationships between business operators and law enforcement, conducting background checks on employees, and creating or maintaining business best practices that help keep the community safe.
There are many substances that are a much greater threat to public health than marijuana.
Alcohol or Tobacco abuse and the opioid epidemic are three at the top of the list.
It has been proven in countless trials that cannabis helps individuals better manage a myriad of health conditions such as:
- Chronic pain
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
Evidence from clinical trials is also bolstered by the personal testimonial of patients who have sought relief from their condition.
In some sectors, there was a concern that legalization would lead to an increase in cannabis use by teens and a decrease in graduation rates. But to date, there is no significant indication that shows any noteworthy change in the use or abuse of cannabis in states where cannabis is legal.
Bottom Line: How the Legalization of Cannabis Impacts Society
The economic repercussions of legalizing marijuana are quantifiable. All one needs is access to data that reflects a city’s job growth and the revenue generated by taxes.
The social impact, however, isn’t as easy to measure. Considering the legislation is so new, there will be an absence of long-term trends that can be analyzed.
Luckily, since Washington state and Colorado first passed laws regulating and taxing marijuana in 2012, there have been many studies that have examined the effects of marijuana on society.
Though the term isn’t very long, we still have a baseline of information with which to work.
At the time of this posting, the societal influence of legalization has primarily been the same in all states that have passed legislation. Most of the revenue collected is earmarked for social investments such as state and local government, youth education, treatment programs, substance abuse prevention initiatives, health care, schools, state police, and more.
So how does legalizing marijuana impact society?
- The information gathered so far indicates that the rate of court filings and arrests related to cannabis cultivation, possession, and distribution has dropped precipitously. In fact, Colorado reported that the number of marijuana arrests decreased by 50% five years after legalization.
- Because the sale of marijuana is no longer in the shadows, there hasn’t been an increase in violent marijuana-related crimes in states that have legalized. In some instances, those stats have decreased.
State Specific Benefits (all data as reported by the Drug Policy Alliance)
- Colorado has already dispersed over $220 million to the Colorado Department of Education.
- Approximately 40% of Oregon’s marijuana revenue is allocated to its school fund.
- To help fund state schools, the wholesale tax in Nevada (15%) has brought in $56 million over the last two years.
- Alaska collects nearly $12 million every year to fund residential centers and drug treatment.
- The Drug Policy Alliance also reports that teen marijuana use has remained at a consistent rate of 21.7 % both before and after legalization.
- Overall, it has been proven (to date) that marijuana rates among high school students in states that have legalized marijuana are consistent with national rates. This debunks the fear that legalization would lead to national increases in marijuana use by teens.
The results of the initial studies strongly indicate the proliferation of commercial cannabis has several positive effects on society.
Ideally, as more states legalize and more information becomes available, the remaining societal stigma will dissipate as the legitimacy of cannabis becomes common knowledge.
In Part 2, we will explore ways companies in the commercial cannabis industry can give back to the communities impacted by the legalization of marijuana. Additionally, we will pay homage to those who have fought the decades-long fight to improve cannabis legislation.