As Smoke Clears from 2019, the U.S. Cannabis Market Focuses on 2020

As Smoke Clears from 2019, the U.S. Cannabis Market Focuses on 2020
By New Frontier Data

While 2019 was a year marked by turbulence and reconsidered expectations in the legal cannabis industry, significant opportunities for growth and prosperity nevertheless await in 2020.

Despite strong consumer demand, challenges in operationalizing key markets – including Canada and California – coupled with slow progress toward U.S. federal legalization (among other reasons) have resulted in a slowdown in cannabis investments and dramatic contraction in value of the largest companies.

Though the mysterious vaping crisis of EVALI (i.e., “e-cigarette or vaping, product use associated lung injuries”) threw a virtual wrench into a segment which had been projected to account for 29% of U.S. legal cannabis sales and $4.9 billion in 2019, other categories have seen strong sustained growth amid strong consumer demand.

The U.S. legal cannabis market is forecast to grow to $30 billion by 2025, as state markets quickly cannibalize demand from the illicit market, thereby achieving a key objective of legalization in undercutting the unregulated activities. Through the robust growth in currently legal markets, cannabis will likewise continue to be a significant generator of new jobs (from 258,437 in 2019, to a projected 743,196 in 2025 – an increase of 188%), and of tax revenues for the federal and state goverments ($1.41 billion in 2019, projecting to $4.06 billion in 2025).

Given the growth seen in Colorado’s successful program, a prosperous market is achievable if deftly managed, and critical growing pains are avoided. However, it takes years for the market’s economics to stabilize, a period during which efficiency, scale, and competition all increase dramatically. Even as Colorado’s legal market nears saturation, wholesale prices (which have already fallen by half) in the Rocky Mountain State are expected to continue to fall, driving further consolidation as less efficient and undifferentiated producers are displaced by high-performing operators.

Meantime, markets are opening in Illinois and Michigan, and Florida seems headed for an adult-use referendum in the nation’s third-most populous state, which approved medical use with 71% in favor in 2016. Almost all Americans now live in a market which has expanded to include access to either CBD, medical, or full adult-use purchases. And with more than a dozen other states likely to further expand legal cannabis access within the next two or three years, the delays in federal regulatory reform appear to be doing little to slow the public’s rising enthusiasm for legalization.

Innovation is driving development of new products. A far-flung range of cannabis-related technologies are emerging to attract new demographic groups and new opportunities through everything from Big Data business analytics to compliance testing, new extraction technologies, and the rise of smart consumption devices.

U.S. hemp saw a 459% increase in cultivation acreage from 2018 to 2019. Passage of the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill catalyzed the dramatic growth, though lack of the industry’s processing capacity coupled with supply-chain challenges to leave some early producers struggling to get harvests and products to market.

Here too, innovation and commercialization will play a transformative role, activating new applications that are in development, from bioplastics to construction materials. As the U.S. hemp industry matures, it will transition from being a seed, textile, and industrial product importer to a global exporter. Though the U.S. had lagged behind countries like Canada and France with hemp legislation, the 2018 Farm Bill cleared the way for the U.S. industry to accelerate and establish itself as a global exporting powerhouse led by hemp-derived CBD.

While the U.S. federal government through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) offers more confusion than clarity about the legality of CBD products and use, domestic and international demand keeps expanding apace.

While the FDA promises guidance to be forthcoming, it is likelier that confusion will confound consumers for the foreseeable future, throughout 2020 and beyond until the long-term research studies which federal prohibition prevented for decades can finally be performed.

Heading into the new year, the convergent forces which characterized 2019’s turbulence are not yet resolved. However, as the irrational exuberance that has fueled much of the speculative investments in cannabis has been displaced by a more clear-eyed, long-term strategic approach, the companies that weather the storm will be keenly positioned to capitalize on the significant growth opportunities which legal cannabis will present globally in 2020.

Click Here to see 10 intriguing cannabis statistics from 2019