There have been plenty of topics creating buzz across numerous industries recently and, with no shortage of news, it’s a wonder that any of them get noticed at all. There’s one particular topic, however, that has been usurping headlines and making more waves than usual: legal marijuana. Cannabis has had one of the most progressive months in recent history. In order to understand the significance, we need to do a brief recap of the history of marijuana.

The Past

Marijuana was originally grown not as a recreational drug but as a medicinal herb. It likely originated in Asia somewhere around 500 BC. Primitive versions of the plant are thought to have had very low levels of THC, the chemical responsible for many of the celebrated medicinal properties. By 800 AD the use of cannabis for both medicinal and recreational purposes was widespread in the Middle East, but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that recreational use caught on in the United States.

Sadly, the legal use of marijuana in the United States was short-lived. Many credited the arrival of the drug to Mexican immigrants. Later, the arrival of the Great Depression would spark negative attitudes towards the immigrants and any intoxicants they were deemed responsible for. This, in combination with the “prohibition” sentiments running rampant in the 20s, quickly spurred the reclassification of cannabis from recreational past time to illegal substance. It was officially criminalized in 1937.

The Present

Now, nearly 80 years later, America has seen a significant push to legalize cannabis. Medical research and advancements have transformed public opinion on the drug. Several states have already taken measures to decriminalize marijuana both medically and recreationally. And, as with any “new” product, sales are skyrocketing.

In fact, marijuana sales have increased 50% in a single year and all signs indicate that they are still climbing. What’s more is that most of the growth is attributed to products like edibles and concentrates, indicating that consumers are primarily interested in using cannabis in much the same way they would wine and spirits. Recreationally. This poses an interesting question: can marijuana overtake wine & spirits and if it can, when will it happen? The answer to that significantly depends on our legal course of action.

The Precedent

You might consider the United States to be behind if you were to take a look at the stance taken by some of our neighbors.  Canada passed bill C-454 (the Cannabis Act) in June of 2018. The bill will allow recreational marijuana to be sold within the country beginning on October 17th. To the south, a Mexican Supreme Court ruling made waves when it ruled in favor of a nonprofit marijuana club privately harvesting the drug. The decision is thought to be the first step in a major drug policy reform for the country.  

Add to that the fact that the United Nations has officially agreed to conduct a review of cannabis, the outcome of which would determine whether the drug would remain illegal under international law, and you’re looking at a historical amount of progress within a single calendar year.

The Progress

While we may not be as far along as other countries, the United States has made substantial strides in relation to marijuana in the past month alone. Vermont has agreed to allow the issue of recreational cannabis to make its way through the state legislative system, Canopy Growth successfully became the first marijuana stock to uplist to the New York Stock Exchange, and the FDA officially approved the very first drug derived from cannabis.  

Finally, in an uncharacteristic move first reported by Forbes, “ the [DEA] is calling for 2,450,000 grams of cannabis next year ‘to meet the country’s medical, scientific, research, industrial, and export needs for the year and for the establishment of reserve stocks.” That amount, 2,450,000 grams, is 452% higher than federal demand made by the DEA in 2017.

Conclusion

We undoubtedly have some time before legal marijuana overtakes wine and spirits. Legislative processes are slow and progress is often measured in inches. The one thing that I am 100% certain on is that marijuana has made more progress in the United States in the last 30 days than it has in decades. If we continue on this path then I fully expect exponential growth in the marijuana market. Can wine and spirits keep up?