Cannabis in 2021: Predictions and projections from those in the know

What can we expect in the coming year? Our crystal ball is a little cloudy, so we asked a few in-the-know folks for their predictions

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Photo by Aiman Dairabaeva/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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In many ways—some good, some very much not good—2020 is certain to be remembered as one hell of a year. That’s as true for the cannabis sector as it is for the world in a wider sense.

Here in Canada, so-called Cannabis 2.0 products (edibles, extracts, and topicals among them) were legalized in October of 2019. For various reasons, it has been a long, slow, rollout. Throughout 2020, though, things like cannabis-infused beverages finally started hitting the market.

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of provinces—including Ontario, Quebec, B.C., and Alberta—deemed cannabis shops essential. This allowed them to remain open while other businesses were temporarily shuttered.

Meanwhile, south of the 49th parallel, Joe Biden thoroughly trounced President Donald Trump in November’s federal election. (Mind you, the latter remains loath to admit it.) In multiple states, voters cast their ballots in favour of legalization. And while cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, the House of Representatives passed a bill to decriminalize it. The MORE Act is likely to stall out in the Republican-controlled Senate. However, its passing in the lower house of Congress is a clear sign that (at least on the Democratic side), the political will exists to legalize weed—which the majority of Americans support.

What can we expect in 2021? Our crystal ball is a little cloudy, so we asked a few in-the-know folks for their predictions.

Victoria Dekker

Cannabis Brand Communications Consultant

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Victoria Dekker

“It’s my hope that we’ll begin to see rare cannabinoid (CBN, CBG, THCV) products in-market in 2021/2022. We’ve seen them take off in legalized states, done well by a few brands like Mary’s Medicinals (an OG Colorado topicals brand, coming soon to Canada via WeedMD).

“And though people still love their flower, we’ve learned Canadians are constantly asking their budtenders what’s new in-store. And selfishly as a marketer, I’m eager to be among the first to introduce the concept of rare cannabinoids to Canadian consumers. Making connections through cannabis and bringing people into our world is one of the greatest joys I’ve found working in this industry.”

Dana Larsen

Author, advocate, and activist for cannabis and drug policy reform

Dana Larsen

“I predict a resurgence of unlicensed cannabis dispensaries across Canada, especially in B.C. and Vancouver. The lack of legal stores in Vancouver and the extremely slow processing of license applications in B.C. is already leading to new unlicensed shops opening in Vancouver. I don’t think we’ll get back to the wonderful situation with 100 shops in the city like we had a few years back, but I am seeing new shops opening up all the time. Hopefully this situation will prod Vancouver City Council to update and fix their ridiculous cannabis bylaws, and also increase access to medicinal and social users.”

Geoff Dear

President of Muse Cannabis

Geoff Dear

“Muse Cannabis is sure that 2021 will be the best year in the cannabis retail business yet. At Muse, we are looking to open our fourth location in the spring of 2021 with a fifth or sixth close behind.

“In 2020 we saw a great improvement in the quality of flower available with a decrease in price. We also saw categories like edibles and drinks grow in sales and product diversity for a smokeless option, which is appealing to a broader group.

“Here is hoping that 2021, with the review of the Cannabis Act, will see an evolution in regulations on window coverings, purchase limits/equivalency charts, and the ability to deliver.”

Mara Stusser

General manager of Calma

Mara Stusser

“After navigating through 2020, I have really high hopes for the cannabis industry moving into 2021. Cannabis was considered essential during a global pandemic and I think that helped others finally see cannabis is a more acceptable light. Going into this new year, I hope the industry can continue to gain more recognition as an essential business and move towards legalization on a federal level.”

Ian Irvine

Professor of Economics at Concordia University

Ian Irvine

“For Quebec, my dearest hope is that our slow-moving (yet price-conscious) government monopoly will open many more retail outlets so that legal purchasers do not have to line up interminably to purchase their skunk. State monopolies should serve the interests of the buying public. High street retail space is available; get to it, SQDC!”

Sarah Leamon

Criminal defence lawyer

Sarah Leamon

“I predict that there will be more legal challenges to existing cannabis laws and regulations. As police forces across the country get more comfortable with new cannabis-related laws, they may be more inclined to investigate and to recommend charges. This will lead to more cannabis-related criminal and regulatory charges before our courts and will inevitably lead to challenges and developments in case law. 

“I am also of the view that there may be some headway made in the legalization of psilocybin mushrooms. We have already seen some advancements in this in 2020, and I predict more forward momentum in the new year.”

Charlie Smith

Editor of the Georgia Straight newspaper

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Charlie Smith

“I predict in 2021 that someone will launch a constitutional challenge against the federal government’s draconian restrictions on advertising and marketing cannabis. They clearly violate Section 2 (b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of expression.

“The Irwin Toy decision in the Supreme Court of Canada in 1989 extended this charter right to corporations. This means that any cannabis company can fight these restrictions in court. The feds can argue that these restrictions are a reasonable limit on a constitutional right in a free and democratic society, but I suspect they would lose.”

Lisa Campbell

CEO Mercari Agency Limited

Lisa Campbell

“Many cannabis brands are pivoting towards sustainability as consumers become more woke to where their cannabis comes from. In 2021 consumers will have more options than ever before and can choose to consume clean products that match their values.”

Eric Robichaud

CEO of Green Goddess Supply

Eric Robichaud

“As more states continue to pass legalization, we have reached the tipping point where the majority of states will be motivated to address the business issues in the cannabis industry, including access to safe banking and taxation regulations.  

“I believe that the economic fallout from COVID-19 will catalyze the states’ desire to help the industry grow in their respective states, if only out of self-interest—when small businesses are failing and unemployment is skyrocketing, the exploding cannabis industry offers the promise of an economic safe harbour with its massive tax-generating potential and scaling job creation.

“I do not expect to see national legalization in 2021, but I do expect to see laws finally pass that will start chipping around the edges. So while we may not see national legalization any time soon, I expect with the new Biden Administration we’ll see a return to the days of the Cole Memorandum (laissez-faire attitude from the government), and passage of some bills providing normal taxation regulations for cannabis companies, and access to the federal banking system. 

“That’s my higher-level, macro prediction. More targeted within the industry, I fully expect to see two trends emerge in 2021: the mainstreaming of Autoflower varietals, which is already underway, and the proliferation of personal home grows.”

Ashleigh Brown

Founder of SheCann

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Ashleigh Brown

“The year 2020 showed a lot of Canadian medical cannabis patients just who was willing to show up for them—and which companies were no longer willing or able to invest in medical.

“Our hope is that an increase in supply of quality flower from micros and a move toward marketplace-style Medical License Holders like Shelter Market and Medical Cannabis by Shoppers will mean more affordable, quality cannabis in a variety of formats.

“We eagerly anticipate the release of products meant specifically for people who use cannabis for medical purposes. For example, transdermal patches, metered dose options, suppositories, and faster-acting alternatives to inhaled cannabis. In 2021, patients will continue to hold companies accountable by voting with their wallets, and asking for what they need.”

Mike Babins

Owner of Evergreen Cannabis

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Mike Babins

“I think this is going to be the year where the big LPs [licensed producers] spend all their time trying to buy the little LPs—I hope it doesn’t affect the quality of the smaller producers…there’s a reason we don’t carry a lot of big LP product.

“I hope this is the year customers go back to choosing by quality rather than what the marketing teams are trying to tell them.”

Omar Khan

National cannabis sector lead, Hill+Knowlton Strategies

Omar Khan

“We are likely to see more consolidation among producers. They need economies of scale to drive down costs.

“Also, I think we are likely to see most Canadian players pivot to the U.S. Cannabis is unlikely to become federally legal even under a Biden administration. However, the sale of hemp-derived CBD products is legal. A lot of producers will look to bolster their market presence in the CBD realm so that they have established market presence when federal cannabis promotions loosen.

“In Canada, we will see more and more producers focus on the cultivation of product rather than creating and building their own brands. I use the example of beer. Labatt and Molson don’t grow their own barley.”

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