The 5 biggest stories in cannabis in 2019

Weed historians will look back at 2019 as the year that ganja consciousness grew in a big way

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1. Legalization goes global

The list of countries that flirted with, proposed or seriously debated the legalization of medical or recreational marijuana got much longer in 2019.

Luxembourg, Mexico, Michigan, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Colombia, Brazil, Denmark, the Netherlands, Malta, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Italy, among others, joined the worldwide movement to legalize it.

Many of those countries are taking it slow. But historians will look back at 2019 as the year that ganja consciousness grew in a big way. Even countries with notorious drug-enforcement reputations, like Mexico and Thailand, see the damage caused by prohibition. It’s not just a feel-good story for activists; these are massive new markets for cannabis producers.

For all the talk of hard times in the cannabis financial markets, the hope that international trade will lift weed companies to new heights hasn’t gone away.

2. CBD takes over America

It’s in lattes, food and bottled water. It’s in goddamn workout clothes, too.

CBD was already pretty popular when hemp was legalized in 2018 as part of the Farm Bill in the United States. It’s gone to a whole new level ever since.

For the first time, CBD sales in the U.S. topped $1 billion – a 133 per cent increase over 2018. And the predictions point to continued growth. According to the 2019 Hemp Business Factbook, sales could double to over $2 billion in 2020 and reach a staggering $10 billion by 2024.

Cafés, juice bars and wellness shops have all found in CBD a hit product and a viable new market opportunity. There’s no way it’s stopping there.

3. The year of the celebrity pot company

Between a vape panic, market downturns and (mostly) bad reviews of legal weed, you might think that it was all bad news in 2019. But there was some time for fun, especially for celebrities who are into cannabis.

Drake launched his own company and Martha Stewart is making pet products with pot. Even basketballer Kevin Durant got in on the game, investing in Canadian outfit Canopy Rivers. And it all happened despite the best efforts of regulators to ban celebrity endorsements: it’s not a celebrity endorsement if you’re also involved in the company.

The list of celebrities becoming cannabis connoisseur’s goes on. Some are more hype than Hawaiian Haze. But imagine the lineups in Toronto the first day Drake weed goes on sale.

4. Vape illnesses reshape the market

The August 14 headline in the New York Times declared, “Dozens of young people hospitalized for breathing and lung problems after vaping.” Doctors were “stumped,” but that was only the beginning.

In only a few months, vape-associated pulmonary illness, or VAPI as it would come to be known, would kill some three dozen Americans, make hundreds more ill and radically re-shape the market for both nicotine and cannabis vaping products.

Across Canada and the U.S., jurisdictions stepped in to heavily restrict or outright ban these products. Once seen as a healthy alternative to smoking, it is now saddled with nearly as much fear. Will that last?

5. Weed stocks enter the new normal

It felt like the cannabis stock market was in a perpetual state of Green Rush. Investors were making money. Everyday people with a few bucks were making money. And cannabis companies were raking in boatloads of investment even before they could legally sell pot. The mood was optimistic.

“We should rightly expect strong double- and triple-digit percentage growth in 2019,” wrote Sean Williams at the popular investment blog Motley Fool.

But reality set in over the course of the year. The heady valuations brought about by the hype around legalization were never going to be sustainable. But it wasn’t until this year that many in the industry were willing to admit that. Welcome to the new normal. It’s quality product that will decide the winners and losers of the market. And we’ll all be the better for it.