Last week, cannabis industry leaders traveled to Las Vegas to attend MJBizCon, the US cannabis industry's oldest and largest trade show. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the annual conference, as well as a return to in-person events after the pandemic forced last year's conference to go fully online.
But although the pandemic forced MJBizCon to cancel its plans for a social event last year, it did nothing to stop the overall growth of the weed industry at large. In fact, the pandemic helped boost sales to record levels, as a growing number of people used legal weed to help them cope with anxiety, stress, and boredom during the quarantine.
All told, America's legal pot retailers moved around $20 billion worth of product last year, and despite the ongoing federal prohibition of cannabis, insiders predict that sales will continue to grow. According to figures presented by Marijuana Business Daily, legal pot sales are expected to exceed $26 billion this year, and may well jump to $45.9 billion by 2025. If these figures are accurate, America's legal weed industry would actually be larger than its craft beer industry.
And according to Chris Walsh, CEO and president of MJBizDaily, this financial forecast is actually a lowball estimate. "These are potentially conservative numbers with what we see playing out," said Walsh at the conference, CNN Business reports. "You're seeing the next phase of a maturing industry take hold here.”
In addition to pouring billions of dollars into local state economies and raking in millions in tax revenue, the legal weed industry is also creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs. According to a recent report by Leafly and Whitney Economics, the US cannabis industry now supports around 321,000 full-time equivalent jobs, twice as many as it did in 2018.
"Take a look around," said Karson Humiston, CEO and founder of job recruiting company Vangst, at an MJBizCon panel, CNN reports. "People want to get out of their old-school, dying industry, and they want to move into cannabis. This is it. Now is the moment to get involved, because it's never going to be this small again."
The US cannabis industry could grow even stronger if the federal government were to finally relax its excessive prohibition laws, but some industry insiders don't believe this will happen anytime soon. The House of Representatives has already passed a bill to federally legalize cannabis, and the Democratic Senate leadership is working to pass a similar bill, but President Biden still opposes full legalization.
"I'm still doubtful that we're going to see any significant federal reform next year ... including in banking," said Walsh to CNN Business. Current federal laws prohibit banks from offering loans, checking accounts, or other financial services to businesses that handle Schedule I drugs, and these restrictions force legal pot companies to operate on a cash-only basis. Lawmakers have proposed several bills and amendments to relax these federal restrictions, but none have yet to succeed.
But in spite of the glacial pace of federal reform, insiders still believe that the feds will eventually get around to legalizing cannabis. "I agree that it's an uphill slog to see federal legalization, but what we're putting on the table is inevitability," said Steven Hawkins, CEO of the US Cannabis Council and executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, at the conference, CNN reports. "When you get to the point when half of the country has legalized for adult-use, we have now set a stage for inevitability. And that begins to change the tone and tenor in Washington."