4 Key Developments in the Ever-Changing Cannabis Landscape

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In March 2016, New Frontier cited the top 10 cannabis trends to watch in its annual “State of Legal Marijuana Markets” report. The 10 trends were selected in collaboration with leading industry operators, investors and legalization advocates.
Let’s revisit those trends to see what has changed since the report’s publication. Given the wide range of important developments occurring over the past year, herewith are the four trends with the most impactful changes. 

Congressional/Federal Action on Cannabis Laws
The DEA announced that it would not reschedule cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act in response to petitions from the governors of Washington and Rhode Island. In its response, the agency cited insufficient scientific evidence for the medical value of cannabis. While the DEA’s decision maintains the status quo, the agency also called for more research and announced that it would begin accepting applications from academic institutions and other research organizations that wish to grow cannabis for federally approved research projects. Currently, the University of Mississippi is the only institution allowed to grow cannabis for the federal government, which has limited the availability of the phenotypes some researchers want to study. B-CannaBit09112016

Spotlight on Energy Use in Indoor Cultivation
The expansion of legal markets has led to greater scrutiny of energy use in cannabis cultivation. Indoor cultivation has been long favored both for its security and the control it gives cultivators over ambient conditions in the growroom. However, the intensive energy use of indoor cultivation, driven by the electricity required to operate high-powered grow lights for up to 18 hours a day, in addition to the cooling, humidity-control and carbon-dioxide systems required to maintain optimal conditions, all result in dramatically higher energy costs than greenhouse or outdoor facilities. We’ve already begun to see a transition from indoor to greenhouse production in markets like Colorado, and with the expansion of legal cannabis into new states and the increase in competition within those markets, indoor producers will be at a growing operational-cost disadvantage against greenhouse and outdoor producers.

Price Wars and Competition
The decline in prices in adult-use markets has continued since the beginning of the year, fueled by growth in the number of licensed producers and in the size of production facilities. In Colorado, where 20,000 square feet was once considered large for an adult-use grow, operators are now building facilities 10 times that size and larger. The steep price drops foreshadow the commoditization of cannabis that we expect to see in the years ahead.

Advances in the International Legalization Debate
In April 2016, the United Nations held its first Special Session on the Issue of Drugs (UNGASS16) since Uruguay and a number of American states began to legalize the adult use of cannabis. Notably, at the conference, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, an avowed drug warrior, proposed allowing the medical use of cannabis in Mexico as well as increasing the decriminalized possession limits from 5 grams to 1 ounce. At the same conference, Canada announced that it would release its plan for adult-use legalization by the spring of 2017. Three months later, in July, the Italian Parliament began to debate legalization—a first for the country.

John Kagia is executive vice president of industry analytics for New Frontier Data.

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