Up In Smoke

Michael Tchong

Up in Smoke - Legalizing Marijuana
The news was met with a lot of chuckles. In April 2018, former House Speaker John Boehner was reported to have joined Acreage Holdings, a firm that invests in the medical marijuana industry, as an advisor. That was quite a turnaround for a politician who once famously said, “I am unalterably opposed to the legalization of marijuana.”

Clearly, “The Times They Are A-Changin,” as Bob Dylan famously intones. Boehner’s abrupt change of heart mirrors the attitudes of the American public as a whole. In 1969, when Gallup first asked the question, just 12% favored legalizing marijuana use. Today, 61% of Americans say the drug should be made legal, according to Pew Research.

It’s a notable development that caps a 45-year trend that began when Oregon became the first U.S. state to decriminalize cannabis in 1973. However, it wasn’t until November 5, 1996, some 23 years later, that the legalization of marijuana received a major boost when California legalized the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

As the chart below shows the legalization of medical marijuana trend has accelerated since then, with 29 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico legalizing medical marijuana:

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If you have any doubt that marijuana is here to stay, these milestones may change your mind:

  • Market size – Arcview Market Research and research partner BDS Analytics estimate that legal spending on cannabis reached $9.2 billion in 2017. Two-thirds of that spending is in the recreational market while medical marijuana generates the remaining 33%. On January 1, California opened what many consider to be the world’s largest legal market for recreational marijuana, estimated to reach $5.1 billion in 2018.
  • Market forecast – According to investment bank Cowen & Co, the overall legal cannabis market will reach $75 billion by 2030. Acreage Holdings projects that the medical marijuana industry’s retail revenue will reach $9 billion by 2020. The global medical marijuana market is forecast to reach $56 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research.
  • Media coverage – In October 2013, a front-page New York Times story joined the growing chorus, concluding that “Warnings voiced against partial legalization – of civic disorder, increased lawlessness and a drastic rise in other drug use – have proved unfounded.”
  • Influential apology – At CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta admitted he had been wrong about marijuana. After examining mounting evidence that medical marijuana was benefiting users, Gupta stated, “Well, I am here to apologize.”
  • Outright legalization – The tide turned in November 2012 when both Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for personal use, signaling a monumental societal shift. Those two states capped a U.S. trend that began with California in 1996 and now numbers 29 states plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico:
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  • Amsterdam, the trendsetter – Amsterdam started the trend. In 1972, Wernard Bruining opened the city’s first “coffee shop” — The Mellow Yellow. While marijuana remains technically illegal in the Netherlands, selling cannabis is “illegal but not punishable.” Only citizens, however, are allowed to buy marijuana although Amsterdam’s famous coffeeshops are exempt from that rule.
  • Attitudes around the globeUruguay, surprisingly, became the first country in the world to legalize cannabis in 2013 for all its citizens. Canada plans to have a legal recreational cannabis system in place by July 2018. Mexico will legalize medical marijuana sales in 2018. In Peru, a conservative Congress passed a bill in October 2018 legalizing medical marijuana. Colombia legalized medical marijuana in December 2016. Guatemala has proposed legalizing the drug, and both Chile and Costa Rica are also considering allowing medical marijuana use. In Europe, Germany’s political parties are considering the sale of marijuana in pharmacies or dispensaries. Spain has more than 800 “private cannabis clubs,” with membership requiring minimal paperwork.

In a confluence of fast-moving trends, authorities at a maximum security prison in South Carolina found the wreckage of a drone that was believed to have been used in an attempt to smuggle marijuana into the Lee Correctional Institution.

Bob Dylan was right, the times they indeed are a-changin.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user wendygail91

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Michael Tchong

Michael is a professional trend forecaster and founder of four ahead-of-the-wave startups. He’s also a top-rated innovation and trends speaker, and an adjunct professor of innovation and social media at the University of San Francisco. Follow him by clicking these buttons: