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Fast Facts for a Budding Market

Long before it became recreationally popular, cannabis—sometimes called hemp or marijuana—was a plant that evolved nearly 28 million years ago, growing across the eastern Tibetan Plateau. Chinese farmers initially cultivated it for oil and fiber to make other products roughly 4,000 years ago, and eventually discovered and honed its properties as an analgesic, an anesthetic, an antidepressant, and a sedative.

In the modern era, Uruguay became the first country to legalize marijuana in 2013, followed by Canada in 2018. Amidst those efforts, other jurisdictions legalized medicinal marijuana usage or decriminalized small amounts of marijuana possession. A broad marketplace full of marijuana products has since popped up, ranging from traditional joints to edibles to THC-infused soft drinks to cannabidiol (CBD) balms, and more.

As part of Security Technology’s April Cannabis issue, here are some fast facts you should know about this budding marketplace and its impact on the security industry:

  1. What is marijuana? Marijuana—also called cannabis, pot, tea, grass, or weed—is a drug made from the leaves and flowers in the plants of the genus Cannabis. It is typically dried and crushed, then put into pipes or formed into cigarettes for smoking. It can also be added to food and beverages. “Marijuana varies in potency, depending on the variety and where and how it is grown, prepared for use, and stored,” according to Britannica. “The active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is present in all parts of both the male and female plants but is most concentrated in the resin (cannabin) in the flowering tops of the female. Hashish, a more powerful form of the drug, is made by collecting and drying this resin and is about eight times as strong as the marijuana typically smoked in the United States.” The second most prevalent active ingredient in marijuana is cannabidiol (CBD), which does not cause a “high” by itself and is considered an essential component of medical marijuana, according to a factsheet from Harvard Medical School.

  2. How does marijuana wind up in a store? This seems a basic question, but that’s what this list is for! First, producers or cultivators grow the plants themselves—either in an indoor facility or outside in a field. This process can take between four and eight months as the plants go through the various phases of their lifecycle: germinating, seedling, vegetative, pre-flower, and flowering. Then, like other agricultural crops, the plants are harvested once they reach maturity. Then, typically after a drying period, manufacturers extract cannabinoids and terpenes from the plants to make products, including food and beverages, lotions and balms, vapes, lozenges, pills, and wax, which are eventually distributed for sale in either the recreational or medicinal marketplaces. California’s Department of Cannabis Control provides a short summary of the details.

  3. Where is marijuana legal? Several nations have legalized or decriminalized marijuana for recreational and medicinal use. Exact rules and regulations vary on the amounts and sales, so it’s important to check the jurisdiction you’re in to be sure, but as of press time marijuana was legal, decriminalized, or considered acceptable (meaning no fines or penalties) for adult recreational use in: Argentina, Belgium, Belize, Cambodia, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Georgia, Jamaica, Laos, Malta, Mexico, The Netherlands, Portugal, Peru, Ukraine, Uruguay, Russia, South Africa, Spain, and Switzerland. Thrillist has a handy guide if you’d like to learn more about where it’s legal to partake in 2022.

  4. What about the United States? The United States has arguably one of the more complicated approaches to marijuana. At the federal level, marijuana is still illegal and considered a Schedule 1 drug—meaning the feds consider it a drug with “a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). U.S. state authorities, however, would beg to differ. Currently, recreational marijuana usage by adults is legal in 18 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, while medical marijuana usage by adults is legal in 38 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Furthermore, CBD is legal to some extent in all 50 U.S. states, and the 2018 Farm Bill made hemp legal at the national level. Roughly 9 out of 10 Americans favor some form of marijuana legalization, marking a major increase in public support for legalizing the drug in the last 20 years, according to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center. 

  5. How big is the marijuana market? The legal global marijuana market was valued at $9.1 billion in 2020 and is forecasted to reach $70.6 billion by 2028, according to a Market Analysis Report from Grand View Research. Its analysis found that the expanding legal marijuana market, coupled with the rise of medical marijuana for individuals suffering from chronic illnesses, is increasing revenues. 

  6. What’s the deal with all the cash? Because marijuana is not legal at the federal level in the United States, the ability of owners who operate in U.S. states that have legalized the drug to access the financial system is complicated. Many resort to doing a majority of their business in cash, which places their facilities at an increased risk for robberies. There’s movement in the U.S. Congress to pass the SAFE Banking Act, which is sponsored by U.S. Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) to prohibit fines against institutions that provide banking services to legitimate cannabis-related businesses and ancillary businesses that serve them. “The bill establishes a safe harbor for any depository institution that chooses to provide banking services to a cannabis-related legitimate businesses which holds and maintains a license from a state or local government to engage in manufacturing, growing, or producing, as well as any business who handles, sells, transports, displays or distributes cannabis or cannabis products,” according to a statement from Perlmutter. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill in April 2021. You can follow its progress through the U.S. Senate here.

  7. What about prior convictions for marijuana? As part of their legalization efforts, many jurisdictions have also enacted record-clearing laws for marijuana offenses—which often resulted in criminal convictions that could have additional consequences, including restrictions on professional licensing, government benefits, and more. In Canada, the government has created a system where individuals can apply for an expedited process to suspend their prior record for cannabis possession. It estimates that more than 10,000 Canadians could be eligible. In the United States, the National Conference on State Legislatures has a guide on how U.S. states are addressing prior cannabis offenses. The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) is also working to enact legislation to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive marijuana industry to help disadvantaged minorities succeed in the new legal cannabis marketplace.  

  8. Why does legalization matter for the security industry? Legalization of marijuana has created a host of new businesses. It’s also created security requirements for those businesses to comply with, meaning there’s been a huge investment in security technology, facility hardening, staff training, and more. Canada, for instance, has led this effort after legalizing marijuana in 2018. Check out some of its physical security measures for cannabis here, and the original directive here. 

  9. What about testing? Because marijuana was largely illegal until the past 10 years, most testing ability has focused on whether someone has used the drug—not the amount in their system or their impairment. With legalization, however, researchers are working to develop an understanding of what actual impairment from marijuana is and how to measure it in a test. In the meantime, the National Safety Council has recommendations on how to respect marijuana usage during off-hours while maintaining a safe workplace where people are not under the influence.