By 2018, retail sales of marijuana in the United States are expected to be between $7.4 and $8.2 billion, representing a dramatic increase from the expected retail sales this year of $2.2 to $2.6 billion, according to the Marijuana Business Factbook.
Chris Walsh is the editor at CannaBusiness Media, which publishes the Marijuana Business Factbook. He attributed the large expected increase in retail sales to the Cole Memorandum issued by the Department of Justice last August. In the memo, the DOJ said it had decided to defer its legal right to challenge marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington state and it would not file a lawsuit against either state for failure to follow the laws under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
This essentially gave Washington state and Colorado the “green light” from the federal government that they are free to continue implementing state rules and regulations regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana, though the DOJ failed to mention anything about how it will respond to states that have legalized medical marijuana.
The memo also failed to offer specifics on whether the federal government would allow residents in either state to use marijuana for either recreational or medical purposes, which has led to a perpetual state of concern among some medical marijuana patients, who wonder if the Drug Enforcement Administration will raid their homes.
Despite some of the inherent flaws and concerns of medical marijuana advocates in particular, the memo has been largely praised and viewed as a step in the right direction toward ending marijuana prohibition in the United States.
“You could call it the $2 billion memo,” Walsh said, before adding that the $8 billion estimate is “conservative.”
He pointed out that “the reality of retail sales could be larger,” since the estimate does not include wholesale cannabis sales “or the billions of dollars in ancillary cannabusiness revenues such as growing equipment, real estate, legal fees, testing labs, paraphernalia, etc.”
Given that black market marijuana sales are currently estimated to be around $40 billion per year, Walsh is right that there is plenty of growth anticipated when it comes to retail marijuana sales in the U.S., which includes the sale of both medicinal and personal use marijuana.
Although it’s not entirely known how much money marijuana-related businesses earn in states where the drug is legal, since only a few are required to release their financials to the public, the group said it developed its forecast for the 2018 sales by conducting exclusive surveys with marijuana consumers, cannabusiness executives, statistics and political analyses published in the media.
Though $8 billion seems tame after learning that the revenue from black market sales of marijuana is dramatically higher than legal sales, the number is dependent on personal use sales becoming a larger market than medical sales and a few other factors.
For example, the anticipated 2018 sales of marijuana could reach $8 billion if at least four to five states legalize the personal use of marijuana, in addition to Colorado and Washington state. Though that may sound like a hard feat, it falls in line with the expectations of the Marijuana Policy Project, a legalization advocacy group.
This November, the Marijuana Policy Project expects Alaska and Oregon to both legalize recreational marijuana use, and in 2016, it expects Arizona, California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine to attempt to legalize recreational marijuana. Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont are expected to follow suit in 2017.
There’s also the expectation that at least two to three states will also decide to legalize and implement “fully-functional” medical marijuana programs by 2018. Which states will still be working to legalize medical marijuana by 2018 is anyone’s guess at this point, though, since legalization legislation seems to pop up like weeds.
While a majority of the American public supports legalizing at least medical marijuana, there are some states such as Minnesota where the state Legislature doesn’t seem to be able to pass any legalization legislation. Other states like Utah, meanwhile, have passed legislation that only legalizes the use of cannabidiol oil for two years, but doesn’t allow marijuana to be grown in the state.
As legalization advocates push to make ending marijuana prohibition a political priority this fall and in the next few elections, there is a chance that the federal government may have once again legalized the medicinal use of marijuana by 2018.