By Leslie Grady McAhren, Baker Institute
This article originally appeared in The Baker Institute Viewpoints Series on November 7, 2014.
What does the future hold for the marijuana industry in Texas and beyond?
Implied within the question is an acknowledgment of the inevitability of a cannabis industry in Texas and beyond. Let us not overlook the progress already being made before our very eyes. If development is inevitable, why not take the next logical leap and explore the future?
The dawn of medical cannabis legislation—the pinky-toe version of cannabis law—will ignite a golden age (in Texas) for veterans, local entrepreneurs, farmers and folks with chronic diseases. PTSD sufferers will get a 70 percent reduction in PTSD symptoms, locals will get small businesses in their communities, farmers will get a way to use their family secrets to make a living, and the chronically ill will simply get to feel better. If patients have multiple sclerosis, they get a reduction in spasticity and if they are vomiting from chemotherapy, they get to eat. Medical cannabis is a winning proposition in the future.
The emergence of a full-blown medical adult use and industrial hemp symphonic regulatory combination will make even large multinational corporations envy the opportunity. If this happens—and this is the direction we’re headed—grocery stores, maybe even Costco, will have aisles full of cannabis products. Austin City Limits will have cannabis vendors adjacent to sweet tea retailers, and nursing homes will have nurseries full of cannabis plants shown to help cut residents’ medication requirements in half.
From a government standpoint, maximizing revenue collections has never been easier. Sales tax is a given in Texas and in most states. Licensing fees—familiar to those with liquor licenses—are profitable to governments and licensees alike. It makes good business sense to collect fees for regulating new industries.
The future of cannabis includes the proliferation of rules, policymakers, product regulators and competing agencies as official as the Food and Drug Administration or the American Medical Association. In this new world order, everything is ripe for regulating, from pesticides to DUIs.
Washington state’s experience with legalization offers a caution against an easy mistake: failure to make a complete multi-year roll-out plan prior to implementation. The adult use program there has done an excellent job of regulating the recreational market. The success and safety of the adult use market is in the process of making the medical market obsolete: recreational laws are cannibalizing medical use laws to the point that immune-compromised patients prefer the more stringent recreational production standards (which review heavy metals, restricted use pesticides, and molds). A long-term plan is priceless for states that seek a complementary and successful integration of medical, adult use, and industrial hemp programs.
As the industry develops, we will see every conceivable niche opened and filled, from non-GMO ganja sold online to designer strains bred by botanists, rated by Zagat, validated by James Beard Awards, and analyzed by Peabody-winning journalists on the cannabis beat. “Smoke shops” in most states already offer an eye-popping assortment of gadgets to facilitate ingestion, sold with a nudge-nudge understanding that the “botanical product” will not be limited to tobacco or aromatic oils. “Head shops” will be a thing of the past, as unsophisticated and antiquated as a saloon might be today. Products for quitting cannabis will also emerge. Drug-addiction treatment therapy does not currently promote protocols with a cannabis component, but outpatient programs (especially those for veterans) could be expanded.
At some point, the proliferation of products will slow, but we will continue to see the clarification of cannabis rules. Every idea you can come up with will have a regulatory agency overseeing that idea. From alarm companies to commercial kitchens to new twists on growth medium (dirt), the savvy futurist will embody the regulatory mindset and be thoroughly versed in the policies and procedures of the laws that will dictate the future.