The U.S. legal marijuana industry is booming

It's 2018 and marijuana remains illegal in the United States.But continued federal prohibition hasn't stopped ...

Posted: Feb 1, 2018 6:58 AM
Updated: Feb 1, 2018 6:58 AM

It's 2018 and marijuana remains illegal in the United States.

But continued federal prohibition hasn't stopped the marijuana industry from growing like a very profitable weed.

Despite what could be considered an unfriendly administration in Washington D.C., nine states and the District of Columbia now allow for recreational marijuana use and 30 allow for medical use. And more states are lining up to join the legalization wave. Pot has become big business in the U.S.

The emerging industry took in nearly $9 billion in sales in 2017, according to Tom Adams, managing director of BDS Analytics, which tracks the cannabis industry. Sales are equivalent to the entire snack bar industry, or to annual revenue from Pampers diapers.

That was before California opened its massive retail market in January. The addition of the Golden State is huge for the industry and Adams estimates that national marijuana sales will rise to $11 billion in 2018, and to $21 billion in 2021.

The industry has also been creating jobs and opportunities. There are 9,397 active licenses for marijuana businesses in the U.S., according to Ed Keating, chief data officer for Cannabiz Media, which tracks marijuana licenses. This includes cultivators, manufacturers, retailers, dispensaries, distributors, deliverers and test labs.

More than 100,000 people are working around the cannabis plant and that number's going to grow, according to BDS Analytics. The industry employed 121,000 people in 2017. If marijuana continues its growth trajectory, the number of workers in that field could reach 292,000 by 2021, according to BDS Analytics.

Related: How much to pot jobs pay? Botanists make more than budtenders

The economic benefits have helped states where marijuana has been legalized by funneling tax revenue from the sale of the drug to things like education and infrastructure

BDS Analytics estimates that the industry owed $1 billion in state taxes in 2016, and owes another $1.4 billion for 2017.

"It's a great thing because the money was already being spent [when it was illegal;] it's just now being taxed," said Tick Segerblom, state senator from Nevada, which has reaped $25 million in tax revenue since recreational sales started in July. "And cops don't have to waste their time arresting users."

Marijuana isn't just marijuana anymore. The products on offer at legal dispensaries range widely from the traditional flower to processed products like oil, hash, shatter and rosin, which can be smoked or vaped, and a wide variety of edibles including baked goods, candies and gummies.

Related: IRS collects billions in pot taxes, much of it in cash

Its roots are spreading into the health and wellness industry, too.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a product in the form or oil or candy that's used as a treatment for epilepsy or pain even though it faces a federal ban. The industry for CBD, derived from both hemp and marijuana, totaled $360 million last year, according to Sean Murphy, publisher of the Hemp Business Journal. He said it's expected to grow to $1.1 billion by 2020 and $1.8 billion by 2022.

So what's next?

The industry remains on shaky footing because of its precarious legal status, and the country's top law enforcement official recently injected a healthy dose of uncertainty into recreational programs in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Nevada, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine.

Related: Weed industry preps for fight after Sessions rips up Cole memo

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an outspoken opponent of legal pot, took action on January 4 after California dispensaries started selling recreational marijuana. Sessions ripped up the nascent protections provided to the industry by the Obama administration. He rescinded the so-called Cole memo of 2013, the guidance from then-Deputy AG James Cole to federal prosecutors suggesting a hands-off approach to the state-legal industry.

The reaction was mixed, with some marijuana business owners vowing to plow ahead, but others worried about expanding in a politically risky business atmosphere.

"The whole industry is under a cloud because no one knows to what extent [Sessions] is willing to interfere with the states," said Keith Stroup, who co-founded the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, in 1970. "By the time we get 20 states that have fully legalized marijuana, then I think we'll have enough support to finally convince the federal government to get out of the way."

The game is about to get a lot bigger, with Canada planning to legalize in July and Eastern states in the U.S. catching the fever -- the state of Vermont just voted to lift prohibition in its state and New Jersey is expected to legalize recreational marijuana this year.

"The only thing you could really do to put the genie back in the bottle, is just start arresting everybody," Stroup said. "But I can't see it leading to some massive crackdown. That just seems like political disaster for the administration."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 259117

Reported Deaths: 5668
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17436187
Hinds16524328
Harrison13876199
Rankin11000217
Jackson10652187
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Madison8413168
Jones6552112
Forrest6101121
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Holmes169868
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Stone148424
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Calhoun138021
Smith125825
Yalobusha120234
Walthall113437
Greene112129
Noxubee111425
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Carroll105922
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Perry103231
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Webster94324
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Jefferson Davis87327
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Benton84023
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Kemper79120
Quitman7029
Franklin68716
Choctaw62313
Wilkinson58825
Jefferson55920
Sharkey44217
Issaquena1606
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 432536

Reported Deaths: 6379
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson63523957
Mobile30967562
Madison27627201
Tuscaloosa21122268
Montgomery19495326
Shelby18941126
Baldwin16798188
Lee12901102
Morgan12447129
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Houston8813156
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St. Clair7705122
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Walker5993174
Jackson590341
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Blount541186
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Coffee454160
Dale405482
Franklin371948
Russell345712
Chilton340972
Covington334168
Escambia328344
Dallas310196
Chambers297370
Clarke290536
Tallapoosa2665107
Pike258830
Marion250155
Lawrence249150
Winston231442
Bibb219848
Geneva206946
Marengo205229
Pickens198631
Hale180842
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Butler171358
Cherokee162530
Henry157523
Monroe150718
Randolph143236
Washington139527
Clay128546
Crenshaw121644
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Lamar119621
Macon119637
Lowndes112536
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