2021 had highs and lows in regards to cannabis policy. Those in the industry know that one year can feel like many given that the relatively new business of cannabis is one that is rapidly evolving industry. We’ve highlighted 5 landmark events from the year that pertained to policy specifically. Read on to see what made our list!
1. Five Additional States Legalize Use & Possession of Cannabis
Five states enacted laws in 2021 legalizing adult-use marijuana possession and regulating retail cannabis markets. In February, New Jersey legalized adult-use cannabis, while also decriminalizing possession. In March, New York legalized cannabis which holds an estimated market of $4.6 billion in annual sales in year one alone. Connecticut passed adult-use legislation in June, and in July, Virginia became the first state in the South to legalize cannabis.
We expect the wave of cannabis legalization to continue in 2022, especially considering that Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Ohio all have cannabis-related initiatives on their 2022 ballots
2. Major Corporations & Many Employers Change Their Cannabis Policies
Another positive development this year was the support that major corporations lent to cannabis. In June, Amazon changed its employee cannabis policy and announced public support for the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act.
In July, Apple reversed its policy banning cannabis-related apps from its App Store. Eaze and The Parent Company’s Caliva delivery apps were two of the first on the App Store, offering geo-fenced services for the California market. Since then, dozens of other cannabis companies have added their apps to the store, including Weedmaps and Leafly.
This change of policy around employee cannabis use is not occurring only at the level of mega-corporations. According to survey data from over 45,000 employers in North America and Europe, nine percent of respondents acknowledged that they had “eliminated job screenings or drug tests” as a way to attract or retain employees.
This adoption of cannabis-friendly attitudes by corporations holds the power to sway state and federal politicians. Pressure from the private sector has a history of driving legislative change, and we expect that private enterprises exerting pressure on the federal government to acknowledge and accommodate more progressive cannabis policy will be no different.
3. Cannabis Use Policies for Professional Athletes
This year the topic of cannabis use among athletes was brought to national and international attention. Major professional and amateur sports leagues announced changes to their cannabis policies. Both the UFC and the NFL revised their policies with the UFC no longer punishing athletes for testing positive for THC, and the NFL loosening its rules regarding cannabis use among players. Additionally, the MLB removed cannabis from its banned substances list.
Meanwhile, at the level of international athletics, Olympic-bound runner Sha’Carri Richardson was barred from the competition after a drug test revealed she had consumed cannabis. This event prompted debate around protocols for athletes that use cannabis in states where it is legal, and brought the topic of cannabis policy to an international stage.
4. State Officials Vacate Over Two Million Cannabis Convictions
Officials in several states have moved to either expunge or seal the records of over two million people with cannabis convictions. An estimated 400,000 of these convictions were vacated in New York with another 400,000 convictions sealed in Virginia. In New Jersey, officials expunged more than 360,000 marijuana-related convictions. Officials in Illinois have vacated an estimated 500,000 cannabis convictions. California officials have expunged over 200,000 convictions. Collectively, over a dozen states have enacted legislation in recent years facilitating the process of expunging or sealing having past cannabis convictions.
5. US Senate Fails to Advance SAFE Banking Act
Despite having been passed by the US House of Representatives on five occasions, The SAFE Banking provisions – which allow state-licensed marijuana-related businesses to engage freely in relationships with banks and other financial institutions – were still not advanced by the Senate.
The bill would prevent financial institutions from being penalized by federal regulators for working with state-legal cannabis businesses. WIthin the bipartisan bill, issues of public safety and bringing better tax compliance to the industry by including cannabis in the federal financial system appeal to more conservative members. Some more left-leaning senators are pushing to include provisions around social equity- though in any case, the greater access to capital that would come with the passing of the bill is critical for social equity operators and brands to compete with large cannabis corporations.
We remain greatly optimistic about the industry in the coming year. Consumers still overwhelmingly support cannabis legalization – and politicians are following suit. In addition to new states expanding the legal market, the changes in the private sector are promising, and innovation among brands is also driving new demand among niche demographics thus increasing the overall consumer base. All of this considered, we look forward to a positively disruptive 2022.