Thanks to the ever-spreading legalization of cannabis in the United States, the cannabis industry is booming. Marijuana laws have changed so rapidly in America that it’s hard to keep up with each state’s legal status. As of June 2021, cannabis is fully legal in fifteen states and is some degree of legal in all but six states. With legal recreational marijuana, medical marijuana, and CBD products available in more markets every year, it stands to reason that the industry that makes these products is thriving.
Some experts predict that cannabis sales will reach around $35 billion in the United States within five years, which is double the record $17.5 billion in sales from 2020. Other experts put the upcoming estimate even higher. The Colorado-based cannabis research firm BDSA predicts U.S. cannabis sales will reach $41.3 billion in 2026.
Cannabis industry experts may disagree on the finer details of the future of cannabis, but every expert anticipates major growth in the industry. Then, there are a few other things experts agree on regarding the future of cannabis, which we’re sharing below. Read on to discover what’s next in marijuana consumer trends and marijuana industry trends, as well as our forecast for cannabis legalization in the United States and beyond.
The Future of American Opinions on Marijuana
The reason state-by-state marijuana legalization has happened so rapidly is the drastic change in how Americans feel about marijuana. According to a 2020 Gallup poll, a record 68% of Americans now think the use of marijuana should be made legal. Per the Pew Research Center, that percentage is even higher when you include those who think marijuana should be legal for medical, but not recreational use. A 2021 Pew Research Center poll showed that 91% of Americans think marijuana should be legal, with 31% saying only medical marijuana should be legal and 60% saying both medical and recreational marijuana use should be legal.
These numbers show a dramatic change from when Gallup first measured public opinion on this topic in 1969. That year, just two years before the famous War on Drugs campaign began, only 12% of Americans thought the use of marijuana should be made legal. But since the start of the new millennium, when legal marijuana approval polled at 33%, public opinion of marijuana has slowly but surely become more favorable every year.
With such a clear data trend, it may come as no surprise that marijuana industry experts believe that marijuana will become even more accepted in the years to come. With more legalization, positive media representation, and conscious cannabis rebranding efforts on the way, it’s probably safe to say that even more Americans will have a positive opinion of marijuana by 2022.
The Future of Cannabis Use Trends
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a big shift in how recreational users use cannabis. In the past, a dominant portion of recreational users wanted high THC cannabis products and strong psychoactive effects. While these legacy users certainly still exist, we’re now seeing huge growth in consumers who are looking for more balanced, moderate, and functional effects.
This shift in consumer preferences is why many experts agree that microdosing is set to be the next big cannabis trend. Microdosing is a natural fit for users who want more balanced and subdued effects from their cannabis. Additionally, microdosing is appealing to first-time consumers and consumers who are interested in using cannabis for wellness.
Cannabis as wellness is a huge trend in the cannabis industry. Consumers who are interested in wellness have embraced CBD products in stride over the past several years and many of these same consumers are now exploring using cannabis as a health and wellness product. As we learn more about the possible health applications of cannabis, cannabinoids, and cannabis terpenes, this wellness market is likely to expand further.
Another burgeoning trend in cannabis is cannabis-infused beverages. Cannabis-infused beverages are already popular and now many big companies, including Molson Coors and Constellation Brands, are currently investing heavily into the product category. As legalization spreads, laws about where cannabis can be sold and used may start changing. Experts predict that certain cannabis products, like microdose products, could soon be available at places other than dispensaries, such as bars and restaurants. Cannabis-infused beverages are clearly well-suited cannabis products for bars and restaurants, so it’s thought that this already popular product type may soon become a significant player in the adult-use market.
The Future of Marijuana Legalization
What’s next for the legalization of marijuana? The answer to that question is different depending on whether you’re talking about state legalization, federal legalization, or global legalization.
State-by-state marijuana legalization is expected to increase next year. As of June 2021, marijuana is fully legal in 15 states, while medical marijuana (but not recreational marijuana) is legal in an additional 19 states. If voter polls are any indication, both of these numbers are likely to increase in the near future. New York, New Mexico, and Minnesota appear poised to become fully legal soon and a bevy of states have legal medical marijuana legislation on the horizon.
The future of federal cannabis legalization in the United States is far less clear. Currently, marijuana is fully illegal at the federal level. Additionally, the federal government still categorizes marijuana as a Schedule I drug with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” With Democrats in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, many have hoped that cannabis could become legal at the federal level sometime during President Biden’s term of office. However, most industry experts agree that this is not likely to occur in the near future, citing a lack of political support.
While it seems unlikely that marijuana will be federally legalized within the next few years, experts say that social justice reform, social equity measures, and regulation changes could be on the horizon due to two recently revived pieces of legislation: the MORE Act and the SAFE Banking Act of 2021. If passed, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE Act) would deschedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and enact a variety of social justice and criminal reforms. Notably, the MORE Act would expunge prior marijuana convictions. Then, the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Banking Act) of 2021 would provide protections to banking institutions that provide financial services to legal cannabis-related businesses. Essentially, the Act would allow financial institutions to provide services to cannabis-related businesses without worrying about legal issues or federal penalties.
The fate of both of these pieces of legislation is currently up in the air. The MORE Act hasn’t been scheduled for a vote yet, while the SAFE Banking Act of 2021 has passed in the House, but is awaiting a Senate vote. Only time will tell whether or not these pieces of cannabis legislation will pass, but the fact that each has a healthy amount of support shows that the federal government has much more interest in changing marijuana laws than they have had in years past.
On a global scale, decriminalization and legalization efforts are underway in many places across the world. A major milestone in cannabis regulation happened this past December, when the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted to remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which is the most strict schedule. Experts expect that this decision will spur on legalization efforts abroad. This could add fuel to a fire that’s already been sparked, since the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana is well underway across Europe, South America, North America, Australia, and Africa.
An upcoming country to watch out for in the global market is Mexico. Mexico legalized recreational marijuana in March of this year and is poised to be a major player in the legal cannabis industry. The cannabis-research firm BDSA estimates that Mexico will account for around 32% of global legal cannabis spending outside the U.S. and Canada in 2026.
The Future of Cannabis Research
Cannabis research is still in its infancy, so we don’t know exactly how marijuana works within the body. But as more research is done on marijuana, THC, CBD, cannabis terpenes, and the many other compounds within the cannabis plant, it’s likely that medical marijuana use will change drastically. Some experts theorize that future marijuana research will result in medical use becoming more common than recreational use. Others theorize that marijuana research will lead to clear subsections within the cannabis market, creating more distinct categories for recreational products, FDA-approved pharmaceutical products, and over-the-counter wellness products.
We can’t know for sure how cannabis research will change medical cannabis use until we see the results, but we are already seeing how current cannabis research is affecting how we think about different strains of marijuana. More and more, cannabis companies and growers are shifting away from thinking about strains as just indicas or sativas, since early research indicates that strain classification may not actually say much about a strain’s effects. Instead, research indicates that things like cannabinoid content, cannabinoid ratios, and terpene content are likely what causes different strains to have different effects and flavor profiles. As we learn more about how the different aspects of cannabis affect performance and taste, growers, cannabis companies, and cannabis consumers are going to be able to have a much more educated understanding of cannabis.
It’s worth pointing out that one reason cannabis research is still in such early stages is the criminalization of marijuana. The fact that marijuana has been illegal in most parts of the world for decades has certainly hindered scientific discovery. In the United States, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and is classified as a Schedule I drug, which continues to drastically limit American marijuana research. However, as legalization continues in other parts of the world, we’re starting to get incredibly valuable data about the effects of marijuana. Countries like the Netherlands, Israel, Canada, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Uruguay are now paving the way with innovative marijuana research that’s sure to shape the future of the cannabis industry.
The Future of the Cannabis Industry
As cannabis legalization continues in the United States, marijuana industry insiders predict that big changes are to come for the American cannabis market. A common prediction is that the American cannabis industry may soon become similar to the American beer industry, which is dominated by a few large players, yet also has a very healthy independent market segment. Since the pandemic limited the buying power of many cannabis companies, large-scale mergers and acquisitions may not happen in 2021 or even in 2022. Yet, they’re almost surely on the horizon in the post-pandemic era. As we move out of the pandemic, there’s also more room for start-up growth, so it’s likely we’ll see some exciting new entries from independent cannabis businesses soon.
One thing that may not change in the post-pandemic era is consumer demand for delivery and pick up options. During the pandemic, consumers have become accustomed to delivery and curbside pickup options, which is something cannabis businesses need to keep in mind. Consumers are growing to expect smooth cannabis e-commerce transactions and seamless deliveries, and cannabis companies that can’t provide this expected experience may end up falling out of favor with consumers.
Lastly, many experts believe that low THC, microdose-level cannabis products could soon become available at places other than cannabis dispensaries. Since cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, this is unlikely to happen in the United States by 2022. However, state-by-state cannabis laws are changing so rapidly that buying low dose cannabis products at a retailer, bar, or restaurant may very well become possible within the next 10 years. If or when that happens, it’s going to cause a major shake-up in the cannabis industry. Once marijuana products can be sold at non-dispensary locations, the real mainstreaming of the marijuana industry will begin.