2018 was a big year for the cannabis community, both locally and worldwide. By the end of the year, marijuana was either legalized in some form or decriminalized in a majority of U.S. states, and the growing legality of marijuana has had ripple effects on healthcare, the economy, big business, and individual quality of life.
Despite the incredible progress that has been made in bringing legal, high-quality cannabis products to consumers, our industry still faces big challenges ahead as we step into 2019.
In 2018, legislation legalizing marijuana in the United States passed in record numbers. As of this writing, recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states, and medical marijuana is legal in 33 more. Even traditionally red states like conservative Arizona, Montana, and Oklahoma are loosening restrictions on cannabis and welcoming medical marijuana. Never in our lifetimes have so many Americans had legal and safe access to medical cannabis and recreational weed.
The Farm Bill, signed into law in late December 2018, will also allow American farmers to grow and harvest hemp. Although it does not have marijuana’s psychoactive properties, hemp had previously been regulated just like cannabis. This new law will allow farmers, even in states that have not legalized marijuana in any form, to grow hemp. Some experts predict that this bill could lead to a nationwide boom in CBD, which can be derived from hemp or marijuana.
Impact on Healthcare
The cannabis industry is having big effects on the healthcare world, as more patients than ever have access to marijuana to treat a variety of symptoms, from chronic pain to nausea and lack of appetite. In November 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex, the first marijuana based prescription drug to hit the market. Epidiolex will treat two types of epilepsy that tend to occur in the first five years of a patient’s life, a time when patients have historically not responded well to the other epilepsy drugs already on the market.
Studies have shown some evidence that medical marijuana may be a better option for pain relief than opiods, and much safer for patients too. One study has found that in areas where medical marijuana is legal, opioid use decreases, and other researchers have found fewer overdoses occur in these areas.
What about the economic and social effects of legalizing cannabis? Colorado, one of the first states to legalize both medical and recreational use, makes a great case study for how legal dispensaries can stimulate the economy. In 2018, researchers in Pueblo County found that taxed and regulated cannabis added about $58 million to their economy.This same county has also made headlines for their innovative initiative turning tax dollars on cannabis into generous scholarships for students.