2017 began with Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowing to end legalized marijuana, but just days away from the start of a new year, the weed industry is growing faster than ever.
Here’s a roundup of all the major cannabis news in 2017:
Get ready for your jaw to drop: the legal marijuana industry is expected to reach $10 billion in sales in 2017, up 33 percent from 2016. Much of that growth is due to new cannabis markets opening for recreational and medical sales.
Washington state generated $436 million in retail sales this year, while Oregon generated $175 million. Nevada, which opened to recreational marijuana sales in July, hasn’t released sales numbers yet, but in July retail dispensaries made $27 million.
In eight months, Colorado made more than $1 billion in recreational and medical marijuana sales, with $512 million generated during the first half of 2017–more than any other legalized state. Most industry experts anticipate that California will eclipse the Colorado market when recreational sales begin in 2018.
Tax revenue from the 2016-2017 fiscal year brought more than $105 million to Colorado’s “Marijuana Cash Fund,” which supports health programs in public schools, housing for at-risk populations, and treatment programs aimed at combating the opioid epidemic.
Colorado has continued to blow through previous revenue records, and 2017 was the year that $100 million of cannabis sales per month in Colorado became the new norm.
Denverites voted to become the first city in the country to allow public cannabis use. The problem of where to consume legally purchased cannabis has been a problem in Colorado since recreational marijuana sales began in 2014. However, “public” might be overstating things a bit–there are still plenty of regulations in place limiting where and how people are allowed to toke. Earlier this month, the Coffee Joint in west Denver became the first business in the city to apply for a social use license.
2017 has been a year of deep partisan divide in U.S. politics, but marijuana has proven to be the one issue both conservatives and liberals can get behind. In February, a group of bipartisan lawmakers launched the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Republican congressmen Dana Rohrabacher (California) and Don Young (Alaska) joined Democrats Earl Blumenauer (Oregon) and Jared Polis (Colorado) got together with the goal of easing tensions between federal and state drug laws and supporting the growing cannabis industry.
The extent of the opioid epidemic in the U.S. is staggering. More than 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, and about 175 people die in the U.S. every day due to opioid overdose. But some researchers think that that cannabis might prove to be a lifesaver.
Both opioids and cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, block pain signals in our nervous system. Unlike opioids, cannabis is non-addictive and has comparable therapeutic effects with none of the dangerous side-effects. Plus, CBD can reduce drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms, helping to reduce the likelihood of relapse.
A study published by in the American Journal of Public Health found that legal marijuana leads to fewer opioid-related deaths. Since the start of recreational cannabis sales in Colorado, the state saw a 6.5 percent drop in the number of opioid deaths.
Additionally, researchers found that in states with a medical marijuana program, prescriptions for medications like painkillers, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications dropped sharply. They also found that a nationwide medical marijuana program would save taxpayers about $1.1 billion on Medicaid prescriptions annually.
On July 1, Nevada dispensaries opened their doors for legalized recreational marijuana sales. Nevada was the fifth state in the U.S. to end marijuana prohibition and the first to declare a state of emergency when weed supplies ran low.
Less than two weeks after recreational sales began, dispensaries were running out of product to sell. In an effort to make concessions to the liquor industry, Nevada marijuana laws require that wholesale alcohol distributors have the exclusive right to transport cannabis from grows to dispensaries. The problem was, the state hadn’t approved a single distribution license–meaning that while there was plenty of cannabis to go around, there was no way to transport cannabis from point A to point B. The state of emergency allowed Nevada officials to adopt regulations to alleviate the shortage.