- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Around $5.4 billion in marijuana was legally purchased by Americans in 2015, and market researchers predict that current trends stand to put annual state-sanctioned pot sales closer to $20 billion by the decade’s end.

The $5.4 billion spent on legal medical and recreational marijuana last year is around $500 million more than what was brought in during 2014, making 2015 “a watershed year for the legal cannabis market,” according to the executive summary of report released on Monday by ArcView Market Research and New Frontier Data, two marijuana industry market research groups. They are slated to publish the rest of their findings later this month.

Citing a sea change in state laws that now allows more Americans than ever to legally purchase, grow and consume what was up until recently one of the most federally regulated plants in the country, the researchers expect legal market sales will grow to $21.8 billion by 2020.

“It is undeniable that cannabis is one of the fastest growing industry in the U.S. Twenty-three states already permit medical cannabis use, along with four states and the District of Columbia allowing full adult use. With nearly a dozen states debating changes to their cannabis laws in the coming year, 2016 will be the tipping point in which a majority of U.S. states transition from cannabis prohibition to some form of regulated legal market,” said Giadha DeCarcer, the founder and CEO of New Frontier.

Last year’s figures were dominated by medical marijuana purchases in California, where residents spent around $1 billion on cannabis products during 2015, the report said. Nearly another $1 billion was generated through legal marijuana sales in Colorado, which became the first state in the country to green-light recreational weed sales for adults in 2014, followed next by more than a half-billion dollars in sales in Washington state.

The $5.4 billion figure amounts to more than Americans spent on Doritos, Cheetos and Funyuns combined during that same span, market research firm Euromonitor said this week.

But with legal pot on pace toward becoming less of a punchline and more of a cash crop, other comparisons seem increasingly appropriate: $5.4 billion is also roughly the total value of the global paper, plastics, rubber, wood and textile manufacturing sector as of 2014, and the same amount JPMorgan Chase reported in quarterly profits for the end of 2015.

“Many in the business and financial sector have taken a ‘wait and see’ approach to the legal cannabis industry. The new data confirms what pioneer investors and entrepreneurs suspected. Legalization of cannabis is one of greatest business opportunities of our time, and it’s still early enough to see huge growth,” said Troy Dayton, the CEO of ArchView

That hesitance is apparent in Washington, D.C., as well, where residents gained the right to grow and smoke pot in private last year, albeit not without lingering debate.

On Tuesday, D.C. Council member Vincent Orange, at-large Democrat, introduced a plan that calls for a establishing a task force to examine new rules that could soon allow for pot clubs to open in the nation’s capital.

Pro-marijuana advocates in D.C. previously threatened to wage a campaign against the re-election efforts of any politicians trying to tighten the city’s laws after Mayor Muriel Bowser pushed for new measures intended to keep private pot clubs from opening, but they applauded Mr. Orange’s offering this week as the D.C. lawmakers ponder the future of the city’s weed rules.

“Democracy and common sense prevailed in the District today,” Kaitlyn Boecker, a policy analyst for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), said on Tuesday. “Today’s withdrawal of the permanent ban shows that elected officials have finally begun to heed their constituents’ wishes, but the fight for the creation of regulated places where adults can legally consume marijuana is far from over.”

In D.C. — where adults can grow and smoke marijuana for recreational purposes, but not buy or sell the plant — adult use market sales may amount to $93.6 million annually by the end of the decade, according to the industry report released this week. Currently, only D.C. residents who have been prescribed cannabis from a physician can legally purchase pot in the city.

While still prohibited on a federal level, 86 percent of Americans live in a state that allows some degree of legal cannabis use, the report noted.

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