The stand-off between the cannabis industry and Jeff Sessions’ canna-phobic vision for America drags on and on, with much sound and fury, signifying … well, who can tell thus far?
But there’s one thing we know for sure: Sessions’ battle cries may have chilled the market, but they’ve far from killed it. Though the Marijuana Index has been in decline since early April, prices are still roughly double what they were a year ago. New markets in Nevada, Maine and California are proceeding on schedule. Cannabis programs in Arizona, Washington, Oregon and Colorado continue to explode. With 29 states creating and refining the new cannabis business reality every day, and almost a quarter of a million people now working in the industry, innovations and trends in cannabis continue to evolve at an astonishing pace.
Here’s what to watch for:
Industry consolidation & big marijuana’s big money
One of the recurring boogeymen for the cannabis consuming community is the fear of “Big Marijuana taking over everything.” In reality, so far, multi-national corporations have been at a disadvantage when it comes to dominating a national or global market. Federal illegality prevented interstate and international commerce. Until recently, operations were limited to state markets. However, thanks to cannabis stocks, larger companies are emerging as cannabis players. Since the election there has been a surge of mergers and acquisitions as the industry prepares for a level up.
The month of May saw quite a bit of movement in cannabis’ high-profile financial sector. Two mammoth, $100 million dollar investment deals were announced on the same day this month, Beverley Hill’s StarGreen Capital and Florida power-lawyer turned cannabis activist, John Morgan. Also, Canada’s Aurora Cannabis, Inc. announced plans to purchase Germany’s leading wholesaler Pedanios, joining Canadian firms like Canopy, PharmaCielo and Aphria in launching multi-national, even multi-continental, operations.
Analyzing the top cannabis investment companies, Forbes’ cannabis queen, Deborah Borchardt, reported “on average investors plan to invest half a million dollars on cannabis businesses in 2017.” Borchardt’s top five companies in the cannabis investment sector (Arcview Group, MedMen Capital, Phyto Partners, Casa Verde Capital, and Poseidon Asset Management) each raised between $25 million and $110 million to invest in cannabis businesses in the past year and are still growing.
Meanwhile, some have suggested caution with the rapidly growing canna-business bubble, likening its meteoric rise to the dot.com boom and bust of the late 90s. This month also saw courageous early investors in the world’s first cannabis ETF (Exchange Traded Fund) lose 4% of their value after opening excitement congealed and the Toronto Stock Market did a price correction on the “basket” of 16 cannabis stocks. So far 12 of the 16 have lost value.
The shifting face of pot
Perhaps the most important update this month has to do with changes in the cannabis consumer base. New reports out this month show America’s cannabis appetite is attracting new segments of the population and their tastes are reshaping the market. Apparently, The United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) reports the percentage of Americans over 50 who admit to consuming cannabis jumped from 1% to 4% between 2009 and 2012. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported cannabis use by people over 65 increased an astonishing 333% between 2002-2014. Citing increased availability of non-smokable cannabis products such as edibles and topicals, increased social acceptance and health conditions associated with age, oldsters are now the fastest growing segment of the cannabis community.
Speaking of healthcare and cannabis, the rise of state medical programs is having an impact on pharmaceutical spending. New Frontier Data’s latest report claims cannabis products are accounting for an 11% spending reduction on traditional pharmaceuticals. A study of Medicare Part D found that in 2013 alone, Medicare patients saved their states $165.2 million on average on pills in medical cannabis states. All told that adds up to more than $1.1 billion in health care savings for Americans a year. When those spending patterns were projected nationwide the savings could be as much as $4.55 billion in 2017 alone.
Lastly, other new studies also suggest that despite weed’s historic reputation as a bro-fest, women are trying cannabis more often than ever before and becoming a rising force in the cannabis industry. Not only are women consumers driving the demand for specific cannabis products, like the surge in edibles or cannabis infused teas, they also hold an unheard of 36% of industry’s executive positions.
As cannabis industry employment numbers grow, image is changing
The 2017 Marijuana Business Fact Book reports there are now as many as 230,000 full- or part-time legal cannabis workers in the United States. That is more than the number of bakers or dental hygienists employed in America.
Prohibitionists have long complained about the supposed social ills a legalized cannabis industry would create. New research suggests however the lying law-and-order crowd were just blowing smoke. Writing for AlterNet, NORML’s deputy political director and chief researcher Paul Armentano, recently published a list of top myths about legalization being debunked as we speak. Not only does cannabis not lead to lower intelligence, opioid abuse, or lung cancer; social cannabis use has not led to increased violence or traffic fatalities. Reassuring to know, now that now that the recreational cannabis industry is gaining momentum.
Social media faux pas: MassRoots drying dry?
While cannabis has always depended on word-of-mouth, cannabis word-of-mouth depends on something else: cash. Following up on their first quarter filings, MassRoots, the popular cannabis-themed social media website/mobile app is widely reported to be hemorrhaging money. The company says in their filing they need to raise another five million through investments to maintain operations. MassRoots is not too worried, however, having raised $4.4 million in stock sales, or warrants, during that same quarter. Writing for Seeking Alpha, cannabis stock maven Deborah Borchardt was guardedly optimistic. While the site does generate revenue through sales, thus far they have depended on start-up investment and are spending money much faster than they are making it.
2017 first quarter operating expenses topped $7.6 million dollars. Meanwhile the company only sold $134,741 worth of ads. The majority of the losses were stock options, acquisitions and infrastructure investments. Though the site’s popularity has continued to grow, last year they were rejected from the New York Stock Exchange, and failed to pay a one and a half million-dollar promissory note. Their stock is currently down almost 14%.
WARNING: The average joint is shrinking! Maybe
At a time when North American marijuana sales (legal and illicit combined) are topping $50 billion dollars a year (more than either ice cream or tequila, or about five times what folks are spending on wedding jewelry), it is a strange development to read that the average size of a US marijuana cigarette, AKA joint, shrunk by more than half this decade. Fresh Toast’s Al Olson reports that the latest research from Spain published in the journal, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, claims a standard marijuana cigarette now averages only a quarter of a gram apiece, a proverbial pinner.
In a 2011, an NIH study called “Quantification and Comparison of Marijuana Smoking Practices: Blunts, Joints, and Pipes,” set the average weight at more than double that figure, 0.66 grams, hardly what most folks would call a fatty, but more than the 0.41 grams result produced from a law enforcement study of the burning question.
The real burning question is, are they really shrinking? Perhaps the latest numbers are skewed since research is from Spain, a newly emerging market, perhaps they are getting great weed and using less. But perhaps they’re just wrong. Last year, Oregon-based Green Flower Media’s research showed local store-bought pre-rolls averaging .72 grams. With the rising popularity of oversized rolling papers sold by companies like Raw and Futurola, maybe those Spanish researchers were just hanging out with the wrong crowd.
One thing is for certain: with the legal market growing more than 36% annually, top marijuana stocks increasing in value by an eye-popping 450% in the past twelve months and legal cannabis revenue is expected to blow up 10X to $63.5 billion by 2024, there should be plenty of joints around for those ready to research further.