State of cannabis one of quick changes, opportunities

Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions
Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions. Official public domain image from

BOULDER — Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he would no longer abide by Obama-era guidelines for federal non-interference in state marijuana laws, John Boehner joined a marijuana firm, Mitch McConnell introduced legislation to support hemp, several U.S. senators rolled out pro-cannabis legislation, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions walked back some of his anti-marijuana sentiments.

And that all happened in 2018.

The state of the cannabis industry is one that is keeping up with the rollercoaster of policy news regarding marijuana legislation. Several experts spoke about what to expect from cannabis at a Boulder Startup Week panel on Monday at the offices of Canopy, an accelerator focused on the cannabis industry.

There are currently about 30 states that have medical marijuana, nine with adult-use recreational marijuana and 12 more states with some form of cannabis legislation on the table, said Brent Johnson, a member of the Hogan Law Group.

Looking ahead, Johnson said he expects hemp legalization to move faster than the marijuana side.

However, for marijuana, expect the continuation of a federalist approach, where decisions will be left to the states. That means marketing and interstate commerce still will not be not allowed or will be limited, as well as banking, said Patrick Rea, co-founder of Canopy.

One question that has come with with state-by-state legalization was whether California consumers would show the same habits as consumers in Colorado, Oregon and Washington. However, new data from BDS Analytics — a Boulder-based cannabis analytics firm — shows that consumption is similar across all four states. Flower represents about half of consumption, concentrates is fast-growing and is about a quarter of consumption, and edibles makes up for about 15 percent.

“We see that it’s not the No. 1 product category, like many think, but it is fast-growing,” said Micah Tapman, co-founder of Canopy.

Another trend, said Brandy Keen, co-founder of Surna, is a desire for quality control amongst plants.

“First thing is, we have to figure out what the human physiology is and map that,” Keen said. “Then we need to have repeatable results from what we cultivate.”

Keen said that will come from controlling the environment in which cannabis plants are grown and harvested. Keen’s company, Surna, makes climate- and environmental-control systems for growhouses.

There are other challenges cultivators face. It’s illegal to market — in fact, Tapman said, one way many in the cannabis industry market themselves is through the highway adoption signs seen on the sides of roads — so they have trouble distinguishing themselves from other brands.

Getting around advertising barricades could be a potential market for startups interested in the space. Rea said that Canopy is interested in investing in cannabis-adjacent businesses.

Other startup opportunities in the cannabis space include real estate, concentrates, infused products, hemp and CBD.

“What does the industry need?” Rea said. “Well, everything.”


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