You only have to check in at your local dispensary to recognize that we’re living through a golden era of cannabis.
For many decades cannabis has been demonized, criminalized, and generally used as a tool to punish Black and minority communities.
It seems beyond reason that a flower that grows out of the ground like any other plant on planet earth can cause so much strife. And it baffles belief that a government with the scope and power of the United States would try so hard (and fail so hard) to stop ordinary Joes like me and you from smoking it.
Well, those days are well and truly behind us. Cannabis legislation has come a long way in recent decades and it’s clear we’ve reached the point of no return. But what does the future hold for recreational cannabis and the marijuana industry as a whole?
From the jailhouse to the dispensary
How did we even get to the point where a humble plant could land you a 10 year stretch in jail?
There are many interpretations of the history of cannabis criminalization but the most prominent amongst them seems to be that it was all a propaganda trick by the US government early last century.
See, cannabis and hemp have been part of the backbone of America for longer than you may imagine. Remember that first-ever American flag that was lovingly hand-stitched by Betsy Ross? It was made from hemp fibres.
Remember when the British Crown used to make excessive demands of the colonies to help support their growing empire? Well, one of the chief exports to England was hemp ropes to keep the Royal Navy sailing.
And the founding fathers of the United States of America? George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both farmed hemp for profit, and the statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin owned a hemp-paper mill. Even the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper!
But fast-forward to the early 20th century, and the government of the day needed a weapon to turn public support away from the growing number of immigrants travelling north over the Mexican border.
They latched on to a stereotype already ripe in the public consciousness – that Mexicans love to smoke weed, and twisted the harmless plant into a drug that turned people into bloodthirsty murderous criminals.
Laws were passed, opinions were set, and bills were voted through. And it is these same laws, opinions, and bills that cannabis activists, consumers, cultivators, businesses, and investors are fighting against today.
We’ve come a long way in the last 10-15 years. Currently, 35 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use and 16 states allow adults to legally use the substance recreationally.
And that number is only set to rise. The old misconceptions and outright lies around cannabis are slowly being stripped away and replaced by scientifically backed data and the legitimate experiences of the growing number of cannabis users.
As the stigma around the plant diminishes, more people are willing to try cannabis for the first time, the industry continues to grow, and public consensus shifts in the right direction.
More than half of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized. And although the plant remains a Schedule I drug under federal law, the legal marijuana industry in the US was estimated at over $13 billion in 2019 (supporting 340,000 jobs) and is predicted to generate $85 billion in yearly sales by 2030.
The future of cannabis
It is certain now that decriminalized cannabis is here to stay. The industry has boomed in recent years, raising billions of dollars of investment capital as the plant moves from the black market to the stock market.
But how will this market look in 10 years, and as cannabis becomes more accepted by society, what changes can we expect to see in the way it is produced, brought, sold, and consumed?
Although legalization and decriminalization appear to be an unstoppable wave that’s sweeping across every state in the country, cannabis is still very much illegal on a federal level.
When states first began to allow retailers to sell recreational and medicinal cannabis, there were some instances of federal law enforcement agencies raiding farms and retailers that were operating well within the boundaries of state law.
These kinds of events seem to be in the past now, but the conflicting legislation is still throwing up issues. The threat of federal action is enough to put off banks and other large companies from becoming involved in the cannabis industry.
As a result, some cannabis businesses are having a hard time securing the investments they need to grow and many face the headache of only being able to operate in cash.
But this could be set to change in the coming years. With the Democrats taking political control, the way seems paved for a relaxation of federal laws. This could be a huge boost to an already growing industry and is likely to result in many US cannabis companies floating on the stock market.
Another big milestone that could be ushered in is the expunging of tens of thousands of people who are currently incarcerated for minor cannabis charges.
The current picture is that the American prison system is full of people who are serving time for possessing, consuming, or distributing cannabis. At the same time, people are legally making thousands of dollars for themselves and their businesses with exactly the same actions.
President Biden and VP Harris have both made strong suggestions that they will push for legislation that could see many of these people released early.
Cannabis is one of the few consumer industries that in reality doesn’t need to exist at all – after all, it grows from the soil like a weed.
Many cannabis users choose to grow their crops. Marijuana is an incredibly versatile and hardy plant, and some strains are specifically modified to strive in a variety of conditions.
And although cannabis activists have been fighting for legalization for decades, there are many in the movement who are fearful that if big money gets into the cannabis industry it could result in mediocre, low-cost products and future laws that make it hard for home-growers to cultivate their own crops.
The fear is a ‘coca-cola’ of cannabis. One or two huge brands that dominate the market, reducing consumer choice and making it virtually impossible for small players to enter the game.
But there are a few glimmers of light that will make it difficult for major players to control the entire game.
First of all the sheer number of different strains, diverse genetic roots, and the ability to cross-breed new strains will make it very hard for companies to gain complete control of the market or even make popular strains 100% their own property.
Secondly is the consumer demand leaning towards locally grown, small-batch cannabis. Marijuana has long been a connoisseurs game. Experienced users like to compare strains – the aromas, the subtlest of the high, the density, bud size, the list goes on and on. This will make it hard to flood the market with generic weed and expect to maintain consumer interest.
Also, regulators seem to be coming to the aid of small producers. Some states have introduced legislation that caps the size of cannabis farms. It seems that the consensus around cannabis is that if this industry is going to explode as predicted, it’s better for communities and the economy at large if this wealth is divided up as much as possible.
The rise of micro-dosing
Microdosing has been in vogue for a few years now and there’s a large possibility that the trend could become the norm for the future of cannabis consumption.
Microdosing gained popularity as a way of gaining the benefits from psychedelic substances without feeling the mind-altering effects. MDMA (the active ingredient in ecstasy pills) and psilocybin (the compound that gives magic mushrooms their kick) have been used in microdosing trials for a range of mental illnesses and yielded positive results in some cases.
It has long been the case that the ‘best’ cannabis is thought to be the strongest. The praise is usually given to the breeder that can create a strain that delivers the knock-out high that has you blazed out of your tree.
There will always be a demand for these types of weed, but as the industry becomes more mainstream and accessible to casual users, dispensaries are catering to those who want the medicinal benefits of cannabis without the 1-2 punch to the head.
This trend is already beginning to take form with the rise of under-the-tongue THC drops and low-strength edibles. These methods of consumption give users an exact measure of how much THC they’re getting into their systems.
One prediction is that microdoses will be commonly available in areas that typically trigger stress, anxiety, and panic, eg airports, supermarkets, dentists.
THC and CBD will have to share the spotlight
THC has long been known to cannabis users, and in recent times the health cannabis explosion has promoted CBD to household fame.
They are the two best-known cannabinoids – active ingredients in the cannabis plant responsible for the long list of the effects of cannabis.
But what a lot of people do not know is that there are over 140 known cannabinoids found in marijuana, and research on the vast majority of them is non-existent. As the industry becomes more valuable and more research money is available, the race is already underway to understand, isolate, and market the next big cannabinoids.
We’ve already seen delta-8 and CBG flitter on the edge of the market, and you can rest assured that THC and CBD cant hold the limelight forever.
There is also a growing understanding of terpenes (compounds that give different strains their aromas and tastes) and how they affect the high and medicinal benefits of cannabis.
More spaces to consume cannabis
Even in the states that have legalized the recreational use of cannabis, there are strict regulations on where exactly you can blaze up. Some states only allow you to smoke cannabis in your own home or other private spaces.
But the tide is turning. What was once a fringe culture is now seeping into everyday life, and the demand exists for licensed cannabis ‘bars’ or other spaces where people can safely and legally consume cannabis.
It’s only a matter of time before traditional bars and clubs begin to sell cannabis-infused drinks alongside regular beers and cocktails. And there is already a strong push for the widespread legalization of cannabis clubs, where members can enjoy a relaxing smoke without having to stink out their entire apartment or family home.
Regulation by potency
Traditionally cannabis has been classified into three categories: Indica, Sativa, and hybrid, as well as crossovers. These classifications are based on the physical appearance of the plant and a rough generalization of where in their world their genetics originated.
But as research catches up, no concrete distinctions between these categories have been found. Some Indica strains share the properties of Sativa strains, and some strains from the same categories share no properties at all.
As we move into a new era, it is predicted that cannabis strains will be classified by the amount of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids they contain. In the same way that beer, wine, and whiskey have different regulations around how they are sold, it is thought that the same will become true with cannabis. We could even see a ‘standard high’ system come into place similar to alcohol that regulates the sales of weed.
One prediction is that you’ll be able to buy low or mid-strength weed from a corner shop but to get the high potency stuff you’d need to go into a specialized dispensary.
The future is bright
Predicting the future is hard. But one thing we know for sure is that the future for cannabis users, farmers, and retailers is looking brighter than ever. The owners of the dispensary near me are gearing up for another decade of growth and expansion.
Public consensus has finally swung, and it’s going to take an almighty effort to push the pendulum back in the other direction.
As the number of cannabis users continues to grow, the stereotype of a lazy, college-dropout stoner is fading away. Cannabis retailers are businesswomen and men, not criminals, and the average cannabis user is more likely to be a pensioner than ever.
We can finally have an adult, fact-based discussion about cannabis and laws that follow suit.