The cannabis industry is riding a tremendous wave that rolls onward and swells upward, propelled forward by the remarkable successes of those states brave enough to start the ripple. The benefits universally reaped in legalized states are forcing even the most stubborn skeptics of legalization to reconsider their stance in the face of what has become a true force of nature.
Having transcended its perplexingly taboo status and with the stigma surrounding the use of the plant is rapidly receding, the momentum of the marijuana industry is so enormous it is futile to resist; to do so is to fight against the parallel phenomena of enlightenment and economic expansion.
The simple fact that popular politicians are now willing to publicly endorse or even champion legalization efforts is an indicator of its impending arrival. Cannabis is on the cusp of being socially accepted—even embraced—as more and more consumers and investors join a movement whose impetus now seems indomitable. Marijuana is becoming mainstream.
Though enthusiasts may mourn that trend, preaching the purity of the plant as a lonely remnant of a world untainted by the world of capitalism, the way forward for cannabis is as a commodity. The critical argument necessary to persuade the powers-that-be to make a decisive step forward will likely hinge on the economic benefits promised by recreational legalization.
New Mexico has already experienced the positive impact of the medical marijuana industry’s flourishing; in the first quarter of 2018, licensed producers accumulated over $26 million in revenue. That’s a whopping 37% increase from the first quarter of 2017, and appears to be an indicator of better things to come as medical marijuana cards are increasingly issued.
Though medicinal marijuana was predicted to be something of a cash cow, it has turned out to be even more productive than realized; 2018’s first-quarter revenue is well ahead of even the most optimistic forecasts, which expected the industry to bring in $88 million by 2022. If the first-quarter revenue was replicated for the year—and, I’ll remind you, signs show that those numbers will only increase—medicinal marijuana would be an industry worth over $105 million this year alone.
These numbers are impressive, signifying the sort of financial injection that could potentially revitalize the local economy, but they still don’t tell the whole story. In fact—due to limitations from the NM Department of Health on plant count that have not been revisited since 2015, despite the addition of more than 40,000 patients in the program—there is a shortage of medicinal marijuana. If the industry was given free rein to produce at a level that would satisfy medical demand today, the year’s sales could easily surpass $200 million.
But even these numbers pale in comparison to the almost-unbelievable potential promised by full recreational legalization. Colorado saw recreational sales generate nearly $106 million in March alone, with another $29 million in medical sales.
If you fear that Colorado is an anomaly or that they somehow “own” the marijuana industry, their triumphs impossible to replicate, think again. Nevada legalized recreational marijuana less than a year ago, in July 2017; since then, the fiscal year-to-date has seen $386 million of taxable sales and generated nearly $50 million for the state in taxes alone.
In delaying real conversation about full legalization, New Mexico runs the risk of getting left behind, stranded by a world that has realized the error of their inhibitions and embraced a new status quo—one that does not shy away from the things that can and will positively influence our society and our communities.
If you don’t like it, then don’t use it. But the fight against legalization is counterproductive, counter-logical, and probably ultimately futile. Every omen points to an eventual federal adoption of legalization, and we are presented with the rare opportunity to ride atop a crest—or struggle to stay afloat in its wake.