Some call it the holy herb. Others, the devil’s lettuce. No drug has been more cultivated, trafficked and consumed in the world, despite being largely illegal. But now 1 in 3 Americans live in a state with legal recreational marijuana, and many countries have either legalized or decriminalized the stuff. It’s a brave new ganja world, and today we dive into its evolution and future innovations with a look at some mind-blowing additions to the crop. Don’t worry, there’s no risk of a contact high here — although your brain may get a nice buzz.
Joshua Eferighe, Reporter
1. Marijuana Stocks
The budding business was already worth an estimated $24.6 billion last year and is expected to grow by a heady 14.3 percent annually from 2021 to 2028. That trend is juicing the stock market too, with top performers such as GW Pharmaceuticals, producing cannabis-related drugs to treat diseases like multiple sclerosis, and the Canada-based Canopy Growth, which is already shipping to Germany while ready to enter the U.S. market if federal legalization comes. That trend had Reddit investors, fresh off their GameStop extravaganza, excited to nurture Canopy Growth’s stocks, which led to a brief surge in value to $56 per share before settling back to about $27 this week. Other troublesome weeds are growing, as investors realize nationwide American legalization may be further off than expected. Playing the long game, a number of funds — from the Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences Index to the Alternative Harvest ETF — are trading exclusively in cannabis stocks.
2. The Rolls-Royce of Weed
Scientists haven’t fully figured out the health benefits of THC and CBD, yet they’re already raving about a new cannabis compound. Cannabigerol (or CBG) makes up just 1 percent of most harvested hemp strains. But thanks to some innovative budkeepers, researchers have learned how to extract the compound in greater amounts. New research shows it could offer unique medicinal benefits, bringing the best qualities of CBD and THC without the high. CBG has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, plus it could improve the health of your bones, bladder, skin and bowels. Some studies suggest it could even help treat cancer.
Europe is primed to be the next hub for a cannabis boom, particularly after France just launched a two-year experiment in medical cannabis. The goal of the project is to research the positive and negative side effects of the drug, with hopes of legalizing it for therapeutic use nationally. Similarly, Europe’s largest vertically integrated cannabis company, EMMAC Life Sciences, was acquired by the Massachusetts-based Curaleaf Holdings in March. The $286 million investment is expected to help the brand thrive as legal markets expand.
4. The Australian Conundrum
What a buzz kill. Despite soaring medicinal sales and Aussie doctors having their 100,000th cannabinoid script approved by regulators, medical professionals are being told there is no solid evidence marijuana helps cancer patients alleviate chronic pain. According to specialists, the available research is either of low quality or doesn’t support the conclusion presented by many pot activists. The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration is letting doctors prescribe medicinal cannabis products anyway, serving roughly 64,000 patients so far.
5. The Poisoned Roots
There are still plenty of gaps in the legal U.S. weed market, including the lack of access for people of color (POC) — many of whose families and communities were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. POC own less than 4 percent of U.S. marijuana dispensaries, studies show, even though they are disproportionately locked up for having and dealing pot. A 2018 poll found that nearly half of U.S. marijuana arrests involved people of color, despite the fact they make up only 30 percent of the population. The insular industry has a long way to go toward spreading the wealth, from expanding POC presence in product development and cultivation to expanding education around how to acquire medical cannabis licenses. With onerous regulations, individual states risk preemptively shutting out people of color, who tend to have less access to capital — take Pennsylvania, for instance, where the licensing process can cost $2 million.
6. The Pot Politik
Pot makes for complicated politics. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act — the MORE Act — was passed in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives last year with hopes of legalizing the drug at the federal level. It has not been taken up in the Senate. Meanwhile, the Sen. Cory Booker-sponsored Marijuana Justice Act, a bill to decriminalize marijuana, remains in limbo as well. That’s leading some to ask when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is going to make good on his two-months-and-counting promise to tackle federal legalization. Local communities aren’t hesitating to act: Take Evanston, a Chicago suburb that approved a first-of-its-kind municipal reparations program for Black residents, giving a portion of marijuana tax revenue to those who fell victim to codified discrimination in neighborhood housing policies.
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The African American “cannavist” is co-founder of Humble Bloom — a consulting firm and advocacy group that advises growing cannabis brands with a humanistic approach. Their main goal is for companies to enter the marijuana industry consciously, pushing them to design strategic initiatives that emphasize pot destigmatization. As a marijuana brand itself, Humble Bloom not only sells cannabis but also hosts summits, field trips and seminars presented by cannabis industry thought leaders. When she’s not hyping weed, Burnett does work with breathwork studio Frequency and the AfroPunk festival.
The hip-hop scion isn’t the most pot-heavy artist, though he does drop a dope line in “Excuse Me Miss,” beginning with “You can’t roll a blunt to this one. You gotta, you gotta well, you gotta light a J.” However, he is a businessman beyond the music scene. And it shouldn't be surprising that Jay-Z has other hedonistic tastes, after Beyoncé’s Grammy-winning hubby saw Louis Vuitton buy half of his stake in his Ace of Spades Champagne brand in February. The Brooklyn native went the opulent route with his cannabis venture, Monogram, a nod to the print often used for luxury items. That rich approach lingers in every nug of the luxury line, from its curation to its high-minded strains. The mogul is firmly part of the weed boom, adding some melanin to an industry saturated with white folks.
3. The Man Ending Mexican Cartels
He isn’t a politician or a military leader. No, the man ending the Mexican cartels is Guillermo Nieto, head of the National Association for the Cannabis Industry, which has some 200 companies interested in growing legal marijuana. The Guanajuato native wants to fend off illegal producers while finding a way to make legalization profitable for the many impoverished farmers who nonetheless depend on drug traffickers to make ends meet. Nieto, who began smoking pot in Boston as a college student, is preparing farmers to swap traditional THC plants for industrial ones — the type that produce non-psychoactive yet profitable components like CBD and hemp fiber. The long-term hope is to starve cartels of their most important asset: their product.
Actor Jaleel White is also getting in on the kush game with his new line out today, itsPurpl, featuring the Purple Urkle strain. His decision to take ownership comes after years of seeing his famous Family Matters character name used for weed varieties. White said his personal interests (aka not Urkel related) of good food, adventures and laughs coalesced perfectly for the pot industry — which he is well aware has faced major diversity and inclusion issues.
5. Take Your Vitamins!
As a certified dietitian and nutritionist with a master’s from Columbia University, Laura Lagano began researching holistic approaches when her daughter suffered impairments linked to autism. And while CBD had long been studied as a treatment for seizures and genetic ailments, Lagano took the data further, primarily focusing on its potential use as a dietary supplement. As the Holistic Cannabis Academy founder, the Brooklyn native integrates cannabis and CBD recommendations with essential oils and nutritional advice. From special teas to brownies and smoothies, Lagano says the plant works best when paired with changing your lifestyle choices for the better.
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then vs. now
1. Presidential Stamp
Ronald Reagan dubbed it “one of the most dangerous threats to an entire generation of Americans” in the 1970s. Bill Clinton partook but insisted he didn’t inhale in the ’90s. And this past November, the United States elected a half-Jamaican vice president who bragged on radio about her college toking days. Sure, the commander in chief is a bit of a narc, with the Biden White House firing a number of staffers for previous pot use. But 6 in 10 Americans want to legalize the good good, up from the 25 percent who felt that way three decades ago. As you’d imagine, behavior reflects our changing attitudes: The number of adults aged 50 to 64 who admit to smoking pot has doubled over the past decade.
2. Ganja Gentrification
Pop culture has bud as an artist’s best friend — the companion of the liberated and anti-establishment. But creatives aren’t so sure anymore. That’s because urban cannabis production, led by home-brew cultivators and out-of-state corporations, is leading to rent hikes in desirable artist respites like Oakland and Seattle. In some areas of Seattle, rent jumped by 50 percent. Similar phenomena occurred after Canada and Denver made weed legal as well. As millions of square feet in industrial space gets covered over by pot farms, stoner creatives are being displaced. And while artists hoped they could work out a deal with the growers, so far they’ve been skunked.
3. It Really Is Stronger
The elders warning that weed today is way stronger than what was available back in the day aren’t lying. Cannabis is especially prone for experimentation because it is easy to breed, says Ryan Stoa, author of Craft Weed, an exploration of family farming and the future of the marijuana industry. “After a few generations, you’re going to keep pushing the envelope and driving that THC level up because you’re just selecting plants that have a high THC level,” he explains. Studies suggest the potency has tripled in just a few years. Or, as comedian Kat Williams riffs: “Have to be careful though, ’cuz weed is getting stronger every two weeks!” Some are trying to combat concerns of customers unwittingly imbibing too much with chemometrics — science-based lab reporting that serves like nutritional facts for weed. These reports inform users what they’re smoking down to the terpenes (miniscule plant molecules). “People are kind of fixated on these numbers when they don’t need to be,” Lev Spivak-Birndorf, co-founder of PSI Labs, told OZY while arguing people should use the extra information to curate their experiences, not fret over the ingredients.
4. Trading Martinis for Mary Jane
The lunchtime cocktail or happy hour drink used to be the staple for cooling off. But in California, pot is by far the more popular balm for the weekday blues. One 2018 survey of 4,000 Californians found that 70 percent of pain pill users and 60 percent of alcohol drinkers had cut back or halted their consumption since marijuana became legal. Cannabis already carries fewer risks to your health than drinking, experts say. And with weed as an option for taking the edge off, there are fewer reasons than ever to wake up to a hangover.
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Back in the day, the gravity bong was a contraption that required MacGyver-like abilities: a bucket, aluminum foil, a half-gallon bottle, etc. Now there’s a device that does away with the toked-up tussle. The “Gravity Hookah” by Stündenglass is all a sophomore undergrad fresh off a Taco Bell run could want. The sophisticated and elegantly designed 360-degree rotating glass uses opposing airflow technology, cascading water displacement and the natural force of gravity to generate thick kush clouds for consumption. No mess (or impromptu arts and crafts sessions) here. The invention is so heady that rapper Wiz Khalifa took it for a spin — and went viral in the process.
2. The Secret to Good Skin
The topical effects of THC and CBD are fertile ground for a beauty market vying for new ideas. Lip Bong balm uses peppermint oils with cannabis-infused grapeseed oil, for example. Studies suggest there are valuable health enhancements in various cannabinoid treatments.
3. Marijuana Studies Major
No, it’s not a joke: Students really are majoring in Mary Jane now that Lake Superior State University in Michigan is offering the country’s first cannabis chemistry scholarship. The $1,200 grants are a boon to those already interested in the school’s groundbreaking class on the same subject, which began in 2019. And with an aim of ensuring safety and integrity in the cannabis industry, even teetotalers can’t argue the greater good isn’t being served. The program is designed to prepare students to work in various cannabis industry sectors. “That’s how we’re going to change this,” says Christina DiArcangelo, an entrepreneur and CEO with more than two decades of experience in the medical cannabis and CBD industry. “That’s why I got into this industry five years ago. It should not be viewed as illegal or pot. We need to look at it as a medicinal value nutraceutical.”
Correction: This piece originally misquoted Dr. Rachel Knox. OZY apologies for the error, which has been fixed.