Although many cannabis consumers will be smoking the wacky weed on 4/20, industry insiders will mark the honorary holiday by focusing on a different kind of green ― or at least doing what’s needed to stay in business.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational cannabis in the U.S.
Since then, 16 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized pot for recreational purposes. Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 37 states and Washington, D.C., but five states have only legalized the use of CBD oil: Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Wisconsin.
Considering cannabis laws vary from state to state and it is still illegal on the federal level, it’s not surprising that political issues top the list of challenges industry insiders face.
Elliot Lewis, founder and CEO of Catalyst Cannabis, which operates a number of dispensaries in Southern California, says that politicians in his state aren’t doing enough to help the industry.
“The leaders in [Sacramento] are greedy pigs,” Lewis said, adding that they could “care less about an industry” that he says could easily produce another 300,000 jobs.
In particular, he noted the high state and local taxes placed on consumers and businesses. Those can add as much as $38 to $100 worth of legal weed, according to KCRW.com.
Things are even more challenging on the federal level, where cannabis remains illegal.
Matte Namer, the CEO and founder of Cannabeta Realty, a commercial real estate brokerage firm on the East Coast specializing in cannabis, says the current political climate doesn’t seem favorable to decriminalizing pot or legalizing it.
“The Senate simply does not appear to have 50 votes let alone the 60 votes required to override a filibuster,” Namer told HuffPost via email. “We are hopeful that [the SAFE Banking Act] (which would give the cannabis industry much greater access to banking) may pass the Senate this year, however, politicians and activists are very divided as to whether any cannabis legislation should be passed that does not significantly advance issues of social justice.”
Matt Costa, CEO of Wonderbrett, a Los Angeles-based cannabis company, agrees that the government needs to emphasize helping people and communities negatively affected by the war on drugs.
“Although we cannot reverse the decades of injustice waged on Americans, and in particular communities of color, releasing and expungement of all incarcerated is necessary,” Costa told HuffPost in an email. “More importantly, providing thoughtful and obtainable resources to truly help restore the affected is what’s needed, because their sentences don’t really end after getting out of prison.”
Costa says the industry should provide licensing opportunities, job training and various other forms of aid to those marginalized for decades, but added that there have to be “significant bills” that truly help these communities. “And that is just the start.”
As Namer mentioned, banking is a key issue for the industry. Most banks don’t want to involve themselves in a business considered illegal at the federal level, which makes it hard for pot businesses to get access to capital.
“For goodness sake it is 2022. The fact that we still can’t legally bank is unacceptable,” Barry Walker, CEO of Tradecraft Farms in California, griped to HuffPost. “Yes, [the SAFE Banking Act] has passed in the House several times before but we feel like there is momentum this time. Or maybe I just tell myself that so I can sleep at night.”
Surprisingly, gas prices aren’t as big of an issue for many “cannabusinesses.”
Tim Shaw, chief operating officer of MariMed, a multistate cannabis operator, says he’s surprised that the price of gas is having “a negligible impact” on production.
“We thought higher gas prices might impact dispensary traffic because people may be driving less, but we haven’t seen that yet,” he told HuffPost.
However, Jesus Burrola, the CEO of POSIBL, a cannabis farm in Salinas, California, says consumer price hikes are coming.
“We have already seen distribution and last mile deliveries adjust their rates as a result of gas prices, and have also seen increases in construction materials that are over 30%,” Burrola said. “This will eventually have an effect on consumer prices.”
But while the marijuana market is still growing big, insiders say it’s a long way off before dispensaries become as ubiquitous as 7-Elevens and McDonald’s in the U.S.
“It will be a long time before there is a dispensary on every corner. Probably decades,” Walker told HuffPost. “In the meantime companies like ours write very good policy and introduce it to city councils and hope that they will adopt or negotiate some sort of legal cannabis policy.”
Steven Jung, chief operating officer of the vaporizer company PAX, says the priority should be on consumer access.
“What we really need to be focused on right now is ensuring that consumers actually have access to legal cannabis,” he told HuffPost. “That’s not the case everywhere, particularly in large markets like California, where we’re seeing cannabis deserts and the resulting sustainment of the illicit market.”
Luke Anderson, co-founder of Cann, a THC-infused beverage, said the long-term prognosis looks good for the industry, but there might be a short-term slump.
“Long range, I’m as confident as ever,” Anderson told HuffPost. “Short-term? Everyone should tighten their belts a bit while we explore whether federal legalization is a this-administration thing, a next-administration thing, or a next-next administration thing. I think it’s equally likely to happen in all three scenarios.”