Could the Big Business of Marijuana Legalization Become Another Giant Bummer?

Could the Big Business of Marijuana Legalization Become Another Giant Bummer?

Exponential sales growth is projected for the legal marijuana industry -- but don't expect a consumer paradise.

Americans, once deeply skeptical of marijuana, are taking to pot in record numbers. In a recent Gallup poll, some 64% of all voters – including for the first time, a slim majority of self-identified Republicans – say they support the legalization of a substance that the federal government continues to classify as an illegal “Schedule 1” drug on par with cocaine and heroin.

Familiarity with pot is also at an all-time high.  At least 1 in 6 Americans smoked marijuana last year, and over half say they’ve tried it at some point in their lives.  And some 28 states have legalized or decriminalized pot use, including a handful that support “medical marijuana” dispensaries where those with chronic ailments like cancer can purchase cannabis for palliative purposes.  Pot, once the “devil’s weed,” is becoming much of the country’s heaven.

But it’s support for marijuana from business investors that could well make the biggest difference in the ongoing debate over marijuana.  In states like California, Colorado and Massachusetts that allow marijuana to be legally grown as well as smoked, venture capitalists, dubbed “ganja-preneurs,” are supporting large-scale marijuana cultivation projects — and they’re beginning to have ripple effects in local economies.

According to the cannabis market research company ArcView, the legal marijuana industry grew to $6.9 billion in sales in 2016, a 34% increase over the prior year.  But that’s just the beginning.  ArcView estimates that pot sales will top $21 billion by 2021, and a whopping $50 billion by 2026 — a 300% increase in just five years, and a 700% increase over ten years.  It’s the largest single growth spurt projected for any US industry – bar none.

In some local markets, pot’s already spurring an unprecedented real estate boom.  Dilapidated industrial warehouses are being converted into indoor greenhouses, while empty storefronts are being revived as boutique pot shops.  “From Monterey, Calif., to Portland, Me., the new industry is reshaping once-blighted neighborhoods and sending property values soaring,” crowed a recent New York Times article.

In Denver, America’s pot capital, there are five times as many retail marijuana stores as stand-alone Starbucks shops.  From 2009 to 2014, 36 percent of new industrial tenants were marijuana businesses, according to a 2017 report on the city from CBRE Research, a commercial real estate company.  In 2016, legal pot sales topped $1 billion in Colorado alone.

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