Mason Levy and Damien Payne, both with the Canopy Accelerator, discuss the future of the cannabis industry at a panel at Boulder Startup Week.

Panel: Cannabis industry full of opportunity, despite some political setbacks

BOULDER — A new administration has raised some concerns about the future of cannabis, but the state of the industry is still largely a positive one, according to panelists at Boulder Startup Week’s “State of the Cannabis Union.”

Using data from marijuana-data company BDS Analytics and marijuana law firm Vicente Sederberg, panelists Mason Levy, program director at Canopy Boulder and CEO of WeGrow, and Damien Payne, CEO of FireSale and recent Canopy graduate, laid out the future of cannabis.

“It’s expected to be a $22 billion market opportunity by 2021, and that doesn’t take into consideration new territories coming online,” Levy said.

The adult-use and recreational market in particular is growing. In Oregon in 2015, 100 percent of marijuana sales were medical. In 2016, only 24 percent of sales were medical, and a whopping 76 percent were recreational.

The sale of flower — the little green nuggets most people picture when they think of weed — is still the biggest among consumers, with about 50 percent to 60 percent of sales. In the next few years, however, expect sales of edibles to jump as the market gets increasingly consistent in user experience.

Another major trend, Levy said, is the emergence of brands. Over just 2½  years, branded sales have climbed 260 percent across the United States. However, brands presently vary greatly from legal market to legal market, with different brands available for purchase depending on if you’re in a dispensary in Oregon or Colorado, or even Northern California versus Southern California. It’s a market opportunity for consolidation among companies, with large umbrella companies to have various brands under their belt.

Despite trending upwards, the U.S. is still far behind its peers. Both Canada and Mexico are well on their way not only to federal legalization, but also to exporting.

“Canada is already shipping worldwide,” Payne said. “The U.S. is way behind.”

Federal legalization shouldn’t be expected for the next several years. However, the cannabis industry received a small victory: Although Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear he doesn’t support legalization, he said the current policies in place that protect state legalization — both the Cole Memo and Rohrabacher-Farr amendment — are good policies.

Both Payne and Levy expects cannabis to be a major issue in the next election.

“I hope that someone on the Democratic side can’t not be looking at what Trudeau did in Canada,” Levy said. “People are excited about a big cannabis platform. I think this is an easy topic to get someone in the younger millennial population to show up at a polling station and let their voice be heard.”

In the meantime, there are other major victories the cannabis industry hopes to receive.

“I would be ecstatic if we solved the two biggest issues we face,” Levy said, “and that’s our ability to do real medical research and the ability for cannabis companies to use banks.”