Data-Based View of Cannabis
Data-Based View of Cannabis
As we say a welcomed goodbye to 2020, to cannabis watchers it was the pivot year in the long and inevitable march toward full legalization of adult-use cannabis in the United States. The cannabis industry continued to mature and grow, and so did voters. Now 38 states allow medical marijuana, and 15, covering 40% of the American population, allow adults to consume cannabis freely and legally. Poignantly, in 2020 the people of South Dakota were the first to skip over “medical marijuana” and go directly to legalized recreational use by adults.
California has seen its cannabis industry grow to $4 billion annually, and just a fraction of that is consumed as “medical marijuana.” American adults primarily use cannabis to “get high”, which is a euphemism for relaxing, unwinding, and expanding your mind. And that’s ok, as voters have said over and over. It’s time to accept that cannabis is predominantly a social lubrication product, not a medical product, and to move forward with federally recognized legalization so we can unleash the job-creating power of this plant.
I’m a lifelong entrepreneur with five years in the cannabis business after getting an MBA at MIT and owning the fourteenth largest daily newspaper company in the US. Recently, I helped found Rootz Research, a cannabis-focused consumer analytics company, with three Wharton professors. It’s time to let the data speak so we can look beyond the stigma associated with cannabis and overcome generations of racially tinged propaganda.
The data tells us an interesting story: Americans love to consume cannabis, but less than 5% of sales are used for medical purposes. Overwhelmingly, people favor an instant buzz, so 80% of cannabis sales are inhaled products to smoke or vaporize: including pre-rolls, vapes, dabbable extracts, and loose flower. Most of the remaining 20% is consumed orally and affects people slowly like alcohol. This includes the small but fast-growing THC-infused drinks market where major brewers like Constellation and Molson are investing heavily in R&D.
In California, we know that males spend 71% of cannabis dollars, and nearly half of all spending is done by men under 39 years of age (43.7%). We also know which types of cannabis products people buy and why. Women and older men prefer the metered dosing and the discretion of eating cannabis-infused candies. Vaping cannabis extract, the fastest and most effective way of getting high, performs like alcohol shots, in that consumers under 30 dominate sales.
Its long past time for our government – state and federal and especially the courts – to stop treating Cannabis any differently than alcohol or nicotine. Let’s remember the words of President Abraham Lincoln, who famously said, “It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have few virtues.” So regulate it, for sure, but legalize it now.
Unfortunately, while the people get it, too many of the politicians still do not. In Arizona last month, 60 percent of voters chose to legalize adult-use cannabis, but last week Rep. Debbie Lesko (R- AZ) said she was not inclined to loosen federal laws, after speaking to teens in addiction recovery programs. “Every one of them — they said they started by using marijuana,” she said. “I am not saying that every person that smokes marijuana is going to be addicted to harder drugs, but I am concerned that we have so much costs associated with addiction in our country.” Perhaps Rep. Lesko should ask the doctors and not the patients.
Prior to the election South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem appeared in an advertisement urging a "no" vote against cannabis legalization. "The fact is, I've never met someone who got smarter for smoking pot," she said in the ad. Not to be outdone, the state’s junior Senator Mike Rounds chimed into the cannabis debate last week, “I think this is really bad public policy…I never say I will never do anything, but most certainly I am not going to be a proponent of any type of actions along that line.”
Imagine a stigma so strong that a state’s top elected officials would defy the will of the voters they are sworn to represent without a logical counter-argument. That’s the cannabis’ conundrum. As Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has observed of Republican leaders, “I always jokingly say … they were all in the theater watching [Reefer Madness]. And they’re still sort of this belief that marijuana is going to destroy the world somehow.”
The data clearly shows that people want cannabis to use in ways that fit their needs. With New York and other states poised to legalize adult recreational use in the months ahead, it’s time for the politicians to finally listen to their constituents and make 2021 the year when the federal government gets out of the way and enables cannabis to reach its full potential as a healer of the nations.