By Bridget Hennessey, Vice President, Government Relations, Weedmaps
It’s over. Thank goodness.
TIME Magazine dubbed 2020 the “worst year ever.” Some say that’s an understatement. Others cite the Depression years, or anytime between 1969 and 1980 as better examples of worst. Were the seventies really that bad?
2020 was marked by nationwide protests taking to task systemic racial injustice, as well as a hurricane season and West Coast wildfires that never seemed to quit. Plus: murder hornets, Twitter hacks and a stock market crash. Minus: Ruth (RIP RBG), Alex, Kobe, Helen, Eddie and our nation’s “good trouble” maker. As the incumbent and defeated candidate of the 2020 presidential election, one person made it a race to the bottom and all about him. A global pandemic created the new normal of social distancing, face masks as fashion, and Zoom — the answer for almost everything. But notably and sadly, COVID-19 also brought senseless death to thousands of people in our country; and despair, uncertainty, divisiveness and confusion to millions more.
Queen Elizabeth might describe this year as another “annus horribilis.” I’ll be less fancy and more direct: 2020 sucked.
But one industry marshalled through 365 days and came out ahead: cannabis. Joe Biden may have won the 2020 presidential election, but cannabis won the year.
Consider just some of the things that happened in the past twelve months:
o The mantra “cannabis is medicine” (and frankly, cannabis in general) got a huge credibility bump when governors — Democrats and Republicans alike — deemed it “essential” in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic;
o Several polls showed favorable public opinion of cannabis and cannabis legalization at record levels. The Gallup organization announced in 2020 that about two-thirds of Americans support cannabis legalization — cannabis’ highest favorability ever;
o Cannabis was the big winner on Election Day 2020 — -with a clean sweep in the five state-wide ballots: Arizona, Montana, South Dakota, Mississippi and New Jersey.
o As a result of these wins, today one-in-three Americans now live in a place where adult-use cannabis is legal.
o Cannabis also fared well in local ballot initiatives. For example, in California — the legal cannabis capital of the world — nearly three-dozen cannabis-related local ballot measures were victorious.
o The US House of Representatives passed TWO landmark cannabis-related bills in 2020: the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Act, which would ensure cannabis businesses would have access to financial services; and the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would, among other things, remove cannabis from the list of Schedule 1 drugs. Both bills represent the first pieces of cannabis-centric legislation to get a full vote on the House floor. And it should be noted that SAFE and MORE got votes from both parties;
o The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs removed cannabis from its Schedule IV list of dangerous drugs; and
o Industry analysts expect end-of-year US cannabis sales to topple $19 billion. Legal cannabis employs over 240,000 individuals. Many of these jobs provide competitive pay and superior benefits, as they are covered by a union contract.
Individually, many of these events are remarkable accomplishments. Taken together, they become a notable record-of-achievement realized in a relatively short period of time. The fact that these achievements were won or done during the “worst year ever” — with the headwinds that naturally come with such a moniker — gives even more reason to take note.
2020 was an unquestionably good year for cannabis. 2021 can certainly be even better.
About the author: Bridget Hennessy is a Vice President at Weedmaps, where she heads the Government Relations Department, as well as WM Policy, which she describes as a “think and do tank” focused on cannabis legalization.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series. The second installment — a “look ahead” essay on 2021 — will be posted in March.