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What the New Year will Bring for the Cannabis Industry

After a remarkable year of progress, the cannabis industry looks toward further success in 2017.

2016 was a watershed year for the burgeoning cannabis industry. Countless milestones were eclipsed this year, including research clearing cannabis use of any long term negative effects, the soaring popularity of marijuana, and expanded access to cannabis-based products. More than half the states and over half the population in the U.S. now have access to medical marijuana, while 1 in 5 people live in states with recreational marijuana.

Even with all these breakthroughs to celebrate from the past year, 2017 is set to surpass all expectations. Here are just a few of our predictions for the cannabis industry in the new year.

An Anti-Cannabis White House

The recent November 2016 election has tempered some of the excitement over the expansion of the cannabis industry. Even after eight out of nine states passed the marijuana measures on their ballots, the incoming President and his likely cabinet members may not look kindly on states expanding marijuana access.

Primary among these picks is Trump’s choice for U.S. Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions. Although Trump has remained at least publicly open to marijuana legalization at the state level, Sessions is openly hostile towards the cannabis industry showing a Reagan era “Just Say No” attitude towards marijuana.

Although it is unlikely that the federal government will be able to stem the rising tide of legalization, excitement about the industry’s current trajectory is wavering. There are protections in place, like the Cole Memo and the Hinchey-Rohrabacher Amendment, that are designed to keep the federal government from interfering with state legal marijuana businesses, but both are vulnerable under the new Republican controlled U.S. government.

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The Governing Bodies of Sports Will Come Around to Cannabis

Even as medical marijuana grows in popularity among citizens in the U.S., professional athletes in America are largely banned from using cannabis in any form, despite evidence that medical marijuana can benefit pro athletes.

The NFL and the NBA both test for marijuana use in their players, as does the World Anti-Doping Agency or WADA, which is responsible for setting regulations for a large number of sports associations, including the Olympics. These restrictions on athletes’ use of cannabis keeps them from benefiting from the effects of medical marijuana, including using fewer doses of harsh pharmaceutical painkillers.

Other sports leagues have proven that draconian rules regarding cannabis are unnecessary.  Major League Baseball tests for THC only when players are suspected of using marijuana. The NHL has the most lenient cannabis policy, testing ⅓ of active players for street drugs each year but not penalizing those caught using marijuana.

As more and more players come forward in support of the medical use of marijuana, it is believed that one or more professional sports leagues will adopt new policies allowing the use of medical marijuana by their players.

More Ways to Get Cannabinoids and a Rise in Cannabis Brands

Although the most common way to use marijuana remains smoking the plant’s dried flowers, other forms, such as edibles, topicals, and vaporization have become increasingly popular among both new and seasoned users. As access to cannabis continues to expand and companies further innovate, retail products containing cannabinoids are expected to grow in number and in variety over the next year.

Some of the most prominent trends in the marijuana industry for the next year include micro-dosing with 5 mg or less of cannabinoids, which stands as an antithesis to the soaring THC numbers found in some products, the modernization of products like edibles and vaporizer pens, and the rise of non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD.

As the cannabis industry continues to mature and legitimize itself in the eyes of the public, the most well respected and trusted brands have taken their place at the top to help drive the industry in a safe, responsible direction. This includes clean cultivation, ethical manufacturing, and transparent labeling. These decisions by pioneering cannabis brands will set the bar for the industry as a whole, meeting the demands of an ever more discerning market.  

The West Coast Will Take Its Place as Industry Leader

For years now, Colorado has enjoyed its role as being the first and most lucrative legal recreational use cannabis market in the U.S. It led the way for the rest of the recreational market through its trial and error approach to regulation, piecing together a system that takes into account the diverse concerns of Coloradans across the state.

However, the country’s original and largest medical marijuana market in California (approved by voters in 1996) is now poised to extend into recreational sales, awakening a giant of a market. Estimated to be worth over $1 billion in medical sales, the state’s medical marijuana market is likely to be dwarfed by future recreational sales. Adult use cannabis sales in Los Angeles alone are expected to surpass $1 billion, adding to an estimated $6 billion value of California’s legal adult market.

When you include Oregon and Washington, recreational use of marijuana spreads along the entire length of the West Coast. Washington set retail records last year when they earned $121 million in recreational retail sales in July. Year over year, the state saw an increase in sales of nearly 100 percent in 2016. In its first full year of retail sales, Oregon surpassed all expectations, topping $160 million by October. With sales predicted to increase in all three states in the coming year, the West Coast is set to dominate the cannabis industry in 2017.

Medical Marijuana Research

Increased Cannabis Research

This past year, the DEA took steps to ease the process to gain approval for cannabis research in the U.S., including removing restrictions on making alterations to existing studies and authorizing new cultivation sites for DEA approved research-grade cannabis.

The DEA has also made strides in approving proposals that test the efficacy of smoked cannabis for medical indications, including authorizing the first study examining the use of marijuana for the treatment of PTSD. The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Sue Sisley, has been persistent in her efforts to undertake this important study.

Part of this push for additional research will contribute to the development of cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals in 2017 and beyond. The pharmaceutical industry has existed in a quagmire regarding cannabis. The legalization of marijuana negatively affects the bottom line for pharmaceutical firms in states with robust programs. However, there is also substantial benefit to be found in the creation of cannabinoid-based treatments.

International Legalization

Cannabis legalization hasn’t just taken hold in the U.S. Just as 2016 saw an explosion of legal marijuana states in America, 2017 should see a rise in new cannabis markets around the world.

In 2016, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his government would be pursuing legalized recreational marijuana. In December of last year, the government’s Task Force on Cannabis Legalization made its recommendations on the best practices for implementing cannabis legalization in the country. Lawmakers are expected to start the legalization process in the spring of 2017. Sales are expected to reach $4.5 billion by 2021.

In New Zealand, 79 percent of voters support the medical use of marijuana, and 62 percent favor recreational legalization. While the local government has resolved not to reform the country’s cannabis laws, there are those who question how long the government in New Zealand will stand up to public pressure.

Similarly, 92 percent of those polled in Ireland support the use of medical marijuana. However, unlike in New Zealand, lawmakers in Ireland have pledged to pass medical marijuana legalization in 2017.

Currently in Germany, medical marijuana is only available for patients with special permission from the government. However, in May of 2016, Health Minister Hermann Gröhe introduced more comprehensive medical marijuana legislation in 2017.

Finally, Mexico’s President Peña Nieto announced in April of 2016 that the country would be pursuing cannabis reform. Then, just before the new year, the Mexican Senate voted 98-7 for a comprehensive new medical marijuana policy. The law now moves to the Chamber of Deputies, Mexico’s House of Representatives, for a vote after the new year.

With the tide of favor swinging toward more reasonable cannabis policy here in the U.S. and internationally, 2017 promises to reveal even more emerging cannabis markets around the globe.

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Interest in CBD

While THC has long been the main prize in cannabinoids, influencing the breeding of cannabis strains for ever higher THC levels, CBD has seen a surge in popularity in the past few years. This trend is expected to continue as the general public’s interest in the potential benefits of CBD grows.

A recent Forbes article exploring the CBD market lauded the industry’s potential over the next few years. The CBD hemp oil market is expected to grow to $450 million by 2020, seeing a 700 percent increase from 2016.

While it is unlikely that CBD will overtake THC in popularity in the years to come, this once ignored cannabinoid is coming to dominate a specific sector in the market and should continue to make waves in 2017.

Follow along with developments in the growing cannabis industry on our news feed.

Post by Jeffrey Stamberger

Jeffrey writes media content covering the latest in news, medical research, policy changes, and product education from the cannabis industry.

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