Cannabis essential to Americans during crisis

By Nick Etten, VP/Government Affairs, Acreage Holdings

The Apple store is closed. So is Pottery Barn. New York and Florida closed their gyms. California shuttered its health clubs. But the cannabis dispensaries are open. They’ve been deemed an essential business in California, Pennsylvania, New York and Nevada — and many other states where cannabis is legal.

In these unprecedented times, it’s an unprecedented turnaround. After nearly a century of being illegal, cannabis has become essential in record time. It’s one more sign we’ve reached a tipping point in the way cannabis is perceived and used.

Yet in pockets all around the United States, people are still being arrested for possession of the plant, and it remains a Schedule 1 drug — equated with methamphetamines and heroin — at the federal level. It’s a really strange and antiquated dichotomy.

The truth is cannabis has become an everyday consumer product for most of the country. More than 98% of the U.S. population lives in a state where cannabis is legal in some form. A full two-thirds of Americans support cannabis legalization, including a majority of both Democrats (78%) and Republicans (55%). Those are the highest numbers ever in favor of a complete lifting of prohibition.

Everyone in the industry, from cultivators to processors, is working hard to keep the supply chain moving so patients get their medicine. Cannabis companies are ensuring that their dispensary workers are still serving the public, going into work every day to make sure the medicine is on the shelves and those who use cannabis for its health and wellness or recreational properties still have access to it. They’re also setting up curbside pickups and adding delivery services.

Plus, these days, more and more people are coming to rely on the plant’s ability to relieve stress. One California shop saw a 40% increase in sales of an anxiety-reducing strain over the last two weeks. There’s been a run on gummies and other edibles as people look for ways to reduce the risk of contracting the virus by not sharing pre-rolls or vape pens. And let’s not forget cannabis is now a $17 billion market, more than three times the amount spent on potato chips every year.

All this should be a wake-up call to legislators who have been dragging their feet on federal legalization.

Americans are depending on cannabis as we all wait out the pandemic, hoping for the best. And some of the most populous states in the country agree that cannabis is an essential part of our lives. That’s further proof that cannabis has moved completely out of the shadows and into the consumer mainstream. Cannabis is an essential industry to this country’s citizens, yet the federal government continues to treat it as a criminal enterprise. When we’re through the worst, it will be a great time for politicians to acknowledge that by reconsidering legalization bills that are currently languishing with federal and state legislatures.