A recent report from Arcview Market Research found that the cannabis industry will maintain double-digit growth even in the event of a federal crackdown. The report projected that the industry will have a compound annual rate of 27 percent in the next five years. While president Trump has previously expressed support for medical marijuana, attorney general Jeff Sessions has not been shy about his anti-pot views. On Wednesday, a memo from Sessions said a Department of Justice task force would be reviewing its marijuana enforcement policies.
So what’s with the optimism? In an interview with Word on the Tree, Arcview editor-in-chief Tom Adams said that he was confident in the report’s financial projections. “We’re being very cautious about the two biggest markets — how big they get when they go adult-legal,” he explained. Because their estimates are so conservative, they concluded that a crackdown won’t have much of an effect on their projections. The report found that in the next five years, California, Colorado, Washington, Michigan, and Canada will lead in terms of sales volume.
“Frankly the most [the feds] could do is make a show,” said Adams, referencing Sessions’ own comments that the DOJ simply doesn’t have the resources to institute a widespread crackdown.
“There could be various [federal] actions taken but none of them would be effective,” he said, recognizing that selective enforcement or a state-vs-federal lawsuit could have a chill on investment.
“The public has really turned around on this issue [of legalization]. There’s an inevitability to it,” said Adams. “Twenty years ago, this was not at all the case.”
But not everyone’s convinced.
Russ Belville, cannabis activist and host of an eponymous radio show, said in an email that the question wasn’t whether Sessions wants to crack down. “But rather, how much of a crackdown can he mount?”
“There’s the idea that marijuana is too popular an issue and it would cost too much political capital,” said Belville. “I tend to think that a president [who] mocks the disabled is not too concerned about popularity and political capital.”
Danny Danko, senior cultivation editor for High Times, also expressed reservations in an email to Word on the Tree. (Disclosure: This reporter has freelanced for High Times.)
“Some form of crackdown is coming,” said Danko. “If the ‘entrepreneurs’ don’t see it coming, they’re in for a rude awakening.”
Danko believes that Sessions wants to roll back many of the gains made by the legalization movement in recent years and that his comments against cannabis have emboldened law enforcement officers. “[They’ve] had to sit by and watch those gains be made and felt ‘handcuffed’ to do anything to stop them,” he said. “The cuffs are off and anyone who has been in cannabis legalization efforts for longer than just the past few years can see it coming.”
His comments echo a report by The Los Angeles Times that found newcomers to the industry more optimistic than those with more experience.
“I don’t think people who don’t have firsthand experience with the irrationality of federal intervention understand what a threat we are facing,” Steve DeAngelo, owner of Harborside Health Center, told the Times. (Interestingly, DeAngelo is also a co-founder of The ArcView Group.)
When asked about the institutions with financial interests in keeping prohibition, Adams said that “there will be lobbying on all sides.” But he cited the home video industry of the ’80s as an example of a grassroots industry successfully taking on the powers that be.
Under U.S. copyright law, the First Sale Doctrine allows a film studio to sell a specific copy of a movie. But the studio is not entitled to revenue from rentals of the movie. Hollywood lobbied hard to repeal the law, but video rental stores banded together to fight against the studios, supported by consumers who were enjoying their VCRs at home.
Adams is hopeful that something similar could happen with the cannabis industry.
Danko, however, remained unswayed.
“Legal alcohol was a far greater money maker prior to alcohol prohibition. That didn’t stop the feds from enforcing that ill-advised policy.”
Indeed, Belville points out that the entire state-legal cannabis industry is worth about Pfizer’s profits from last year: $7 billion. “That’s just one pharmaceutical company’s profits. Now add in all the other corporate competitors to cannabis… you’ll see that we’re really not that large at all.”
While there may be cause for worry under the Trump administration, the long-term prospects for marijuana reform are another matter.
“I don’t think anything can stop legalization’s momentum. We’re like LeBron James now; they can only hope to contain us,” said Belville. “And that’s what they’re going to try to do.”