In honor of the one-year anniversary of Colorado’s history-making opening of legal adult-use sales of marijuana, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) is looking back at the most monumental year in the history of the cannabis industry.
“There’s no superlative that could adequately describe the impact that 2014 has had on the cannabis industry,” said NCIA executive director Aaron Smith. “The success of adult-use legalization in Colorado and Washington, the overwhelming public opinion in favor of medical marijuana, and the steady march of policy change at both the state and federal levels have created an entirely new world.
“NCIA is proud to work on behalf of the businesses, consumers, patients, and advocates all striving to build a cannabis industry that is successful, responsible, engaged in our communities, and treated fairly by policy-makers.”Nearly every week brought new ground-breaking developments, but here are NCIA’s top six moments in a year that has changed the industry forever.
1. Legal adult-use sales begin in Colorado.
2014 kicked off with a bang with the historic opening of legal sales in Colorado. Under a tremendous media spotlight, the rollout was a remarkably smooth success. $ 573M in legal marijuana sales and $ 60M in state tax and fee revenue later, the Colorado industry is proving that a legal, regulated market not only works, but works well. Crime is down. Tourism is up. Funds are rolling into Colorado schools and long overdue medical marijuana research. And perhaps just as importantly, when concerns do arise, a regulated market provides an opportunity to address those concerns.
*Revenue figures cover January through October, as November and December sales data are not yet available. (Links: The Cannabist, 12/26/2014; Vox, 4/3/2014; Denver Post, 11/4/2014; The Cannabist, 11/13/2014; AP, 12/17/2014)
2. Federal officials release banking guidelines for serving the legal cannabis industry.
In February, officials with the Departments of Justice and Treasury released memos intended to provide guidance for financial institutions interested in providing banking for legal cannabis industry businesses. While the ultimate outcome of the memos was muted, and most cannabis businesses are still denied basic banking services, the memos nonetheless served as potent message that federal authorities recognized the banking crisis in the industry and were seeking solutions. (Link: New York Times, 2/15/2014)
3. Congress passes the first-ever pro-marijuana provisions at the federal level.
In May, the Republican-majority House of Representatives easily passed two appropriations amendments designed to protect state-sanctioned marijuana businesses. One of those – the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment prohibiting the use of Department of Justice funds to interfere with legal medical marijuana programs – became law when it was included in the “cromnibus” budget that was approved by both the House and the Senate in December. Another, which would have forbidden the use of Department of Treasury funds to prosecute banks serving state-sanctioned cannabis businesses, passed by 39 votes in the House but was dropped during budget negotiations. NCIA lobbying efforts, together with the work of allied organizations, helped make these historic votes possible. (Link: Huffington Post, 7/16/2014)
4. NCIA holds its first national Cannabis Business Summit, drawing 1,200 attendees to Denver.
In June, NCIA hosted the inaugural national Cannabis Business Summit at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver. More than 1,200 cannabis industry professionals spent two days discussing innovation, responsibility, and the challenges and opportunities in building an industry to be proud of. The Cannabis Business Summit returns to Denver in 2015, with attendance expected to double.
5. Legal adult-use sales begin in Washington state and quickly outpace revenue projections.
July saw the opening of legal adult-use sales in Washington state, and legal cannabis businesses are already bringing in more tax revenue than the state projected. Significant differences between the policy designs in Colorado and Washington made the two states’ rollouts proceed at different paces, but ultimately Washington’s experience is again confirming that legal adult-use markets are safe, viable, and effective ways to approach marijuana policy. (Link: Huffington Post, 11/20/2014)
6. Midterm voters legalize adult-use marijuana in Alaska, Oregon, and D.C.
Despite a midterm election with extremely low turnout and a huge wave of conservative victories, voters approved adult-use legalization in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., and notched very strong support for medical marijuana in Florida, falling just short of the 60% threshold needed for passage. Given the political dynamics of the 2014 election, it’s clear that support for marijuana policy reform crosses political and ideological lines and that voters of all stripes are increasingly calling for a smarter, safer alternative to marijuana prohibition. It’s a trend that will likely grow even stronger in the 2016 electorate. (Link: Vox, 10/20/2014)
It was a year of historic firsts and ground-breaking developments, but NCIA’s work on behalf of the industry is only beginning. Most cannabis businesses are still being denied the most basic banking services and facing effective federal tax rates that can soar as high as 85%. NCIA is committed to making 2015 another year of dramatic progress for the people and businesses of the legal cannabis industry.