The prospect of legal cannabis has dominated headlines in recent weeks, as a significant number of states deemed cannabis dispensaries and businesses “essential,” which means they were allowed to remain open as the coronavirus outbreak caused an unprecedented shutdown of the nation’s businesses and workplaces.
As detailed by MNI in its ongoing analysis of coronavirus and manufacturing, a number of industries were allowed to remain open, despite “stay at home” directives issued by multiple state governments. These “critical infrastructure” industries such as food processing, chemical manufacturing, steel mills and the like have been deemed critical to the nation’s survival.
Likewise, essential businesses deemed vital to the public’s well-being such as pharmacies, grocery stores, liquor stores and hardware stores have been allowed to remain open.
Interestingly, for many states, cannabis businesses have fallen into this same “essential” business category, which some say is the industry’s “big” moment as this critical move has served to further legitimatize cannabis use and begs the question: if cannabis is grouped in the same “essential” group as pharmacies and liquor stores, might legalization be around the corner?
The answer? Possibly. Perceptions of the cannabis industry’s legitimacy vary widely from state to state and it’s hard to predict whether the current raft of states that have embraced cannabis as a legitimate industry will be enough to tip the scales on a federal level. Currently, cannabis use is legal in eleven U.S. states while thirty-three other states allow some type of medical use.
For instance, In Colorado, the cannabis industry is a major part of the state’s economy, with the state garnering one billion dollars in tax revenue since legalization in 2014. Yet in a state like Texas, a person could be incarcerated for 180 days for possessing as little as two ounces of cannabis. Finding common ground amid such widely varied perceptions state to state, is of course, the main challenge of legalization on a federal level.
While many industries have suffered and shed jobs amid the coronavirus crisis, cannabis sales are soaring as consumers stock up for a long wait at home, underscoring the industry’s burgeoning reputation as a job creator and a powerhouse industry. According to Leafly, cannabis-related jobs have increased 15% over the past year, currently employing 243,000 workers in the U.S.
In short: the cannabis industry’s resiliency and relevance in this time of crisis may help in the push for legalization.
But is anyone even thinking about legalization right now? Certainly, those in the industry are, but as the coronavirus outbreak continues to pummel the U.S., many states are pushing aside the legalization debate in order to focus on more obviously pressing matters. But consider this: according to Marijuana Moment, Governor Andrew Cuomo has credited the cannabis industry with coordination efforts between states as the coronavirus outbreak necessitated shutdowns. This is because the regional coordination infrastructure the cannabis industry established between states during legalization efforts has now served to benefit the regional coordination efforts amid coronavirus shutdowns. So although legalization has been pushed to the back burner for now, the industry continues to demonstrate its relevance.
In short, the general embrace of cannabis businesses in the age of COVID-19 is a feather in the industry’s cap and may serve to help legalization efforts in the future.
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