2021 has been a big year for the cannabis industry. We have seen several states pass legislation either permitting adult use, or permitting or expanding a medical marijuana program. Some states have introduced new license types, and some have issued new license awards. While the main area of industry growth continues to be at the state level, several bills introduced in Congress this year have indicated that we may see some exciting movement on the federal level in the coming year.
Below, we break down some of the biggest things we have seen in the industry this year.
State Legalization Legislation – New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Mexico, Virginia and Alabama
Six states legalized some form of cannabis use this year, with New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Mexico, and Virginia all legalizing adult-use cannabis, while Alabama legalized medical cannabis.
Since legalization, New York has been making strides towards getting the adult use program up and running. As we blogged in October, the New York Cannabis Control Board held its first meeting on October 5, 2021. At the meeting, the senior staff was approved, and there were discussions regarding developing public education initiatives and outreach in the near future.
New Jersey has also acted fast on developing its adult use program. New Jersey released the adult use regulations in August, and only a month later had provided the framework for its application, which are already open as of December 15, 2021 for manufacturing and cultivation license applicants. Retail applications will open soon, as well, in early 2022.
Connecticut also legalized adult use this year, in June. Only a few months later, the state’s Department of Consumer Protection published policies and procedures for adult use.
Virginia has also legalized adult use, with retail sales anticipated to begin in 2024. New Mexico expects to see sales on a shorter timeline, projecting retail cannabis to start no later than April 2022.
This year, we also saw Alabama become the 37th state to legalize medical marijuana. Many other states also expanded their medical programs this year.
Delivery Licenses – Massachusetts
In early June, we saw the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission announce a new delivery license. As of now, that license type is available exclusively to Economic Empowerment and Social Equity Program Participants.
The already-existing Marijuana Courier license permitted license holders to delivery marijuana directly to consumers and medical patients from retailers and treatment centers. However, this new Delivery Operator license also permitted license holders to purchase marijuana and marijuana products directly from cultivators and manufacturers for delivery directly to consumers. Additionally, Delivery Operators are able to store products overnight, unlike Couriers.
Federal Legislation – Legalization and the SAFE Act
The federal government remains relatively conservative on enacting cannabis reform, but we have seen some movement this year suggesting biggest changes to come. The SAFE Banking Act was re-introduced in Congress this year, and passed in the Senate. While it has not passed the House or become law, it kicked off broader legislation introduced later in the year—including a federal decriminalization bill in the works under Senators Schumer, Booker, and Wyden. Congress is also considering laws related to descheduling and sentencing reform, expungement, consumer protection, veteran access, and hemp and CBD regulation expansion.
2021 License Awards – Illinois and New Jersey
Both New Jersey and Illinois awarded licenses this year, with New Jersey issuing 14 licenses in October and another 30 in December and Illinois issuing 55. With the adult use applications already live in New Jersey, we expect to see a lot of growth in the New Jersey industry in the coming year.
2021 has been a big year for state government support of the cannabis industry, and we have also seen increased support from other major corporations. For instance, Amazon announced its support for federal cannabis reform legislation, and removed cannabis from its drug screening programs for unregulated positions. The continued and increased support for the industry by major corporations may help move the needle on federal support, and support in states that have not yet legalized cannabis.