It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Unfortunately, in 2020, a year ruled by a viral pandemic that literally shut down much of the world economy, triggering a recession,"the worst of times" was far more apt. For the U.S. legal cannabis industry, however, 2020 was filled with milestones. From cannabis being deemed “essential” at the onset of the coronavirus outbreak last March to legalization measures passing in all five states that had them on their ballots in November, the sector scored major wins. Even the burgeoning psychedelics space had its moment of triumph when Oregon voted to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for use in therapy, while the District of Columbia elected to decriminalize.
2020 was certainly a year of reckoning that spurred a considerable amount of reflection and insight from top cannabis experts and professionals. For Scott Sundvor, president of Space Coyote, a California-based pre-roll brand, the industry’s ascendancy in the face of extreme adversity proved the resiliency of cannabis as well as its medical necessity. “People not only want to consume weed, but they actually need weed to aid with mental health, including feelings of anxiety, isolation, and boredom,” he said.
Emma Chasen, a cannabis educator and industry consultant at Eminent Consulting Firm, applauded how smoothly cannabis businesses were able to adapt to regulatory measures, such as curbside pickup and delivery, after being declared essential.
"[It all] proved to regulators that cannabis businesses could successfully operate with a looser hold and a longer leash," she said. "The increase in cannabis sales that we saw and continue to see through the pandemic has financially propped up many states that are being economically hit hard due to the quarantine measures." To Chasen, the fact that cannabis was able to stay afloat during one of the worst global economic and public health crises in history, further justifies legalization.
Not all was rosy for the industry. Although cannabis did receive a huge boost by being declared essential early in the pandemic, there were setbacks, as Andrew DeAngelo, cannabis industry consultant and co-founder of California-based dispensary chain Harborside, pointed out.
"Legalization and other reforms failed or were delayed," he noted. "Only five states had weed on the ballot in a transformative year. Both political parties ignored cannabis during the campaign. People of color only have 4.3% ownership in our industry. And there are still 40,000 people locked up for weed in the U.S. alone. We can and must do better in 2021."
If DeAngelo is sounding the devil's advocate position, then Madison Margolin, managing editor/co-founder of DoubleBlind, a new print magazine, and digital media company focused on psychedelics, is assuming a glass-half-full stance, conversely.
"Psychedelics and cannabis won the election," she said. "What I mean by that is, all the drug policy-related measures across the country were successful, showing just how much people are coming to realize the need for healing and a better approach to health and personal liberty."
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