Call your bookie, lay the bet. In late 2018 the Leafly News team made 24 predictions for the new year—and a fat 68% of them came true. Take that, Nostradamus!
While we totally whiffed on Illinois going legal and New Jersey keeping prohibition alive, we nailed California’s spotty legalization rollout, plus the strains of 2019 and the eco-packaging movement.
Back-patting aside, it’s time to tackle 2020. Where will federal cannabis policy go? What will be the strain of 2020? We’re not backing down from the future—we’re calling it.
Here are Leafly’s 2020 cannabis predictions.
1. Strains gushing with flavor
We see the dessert strain craze extend its run with scrumptious, high-THC strains like Lava Cake and Vanilla Frosting gaining ground in 2020. Leave room for candy, though—Watermelon Zkittlez, Runtz, Gushers, and related crosses will all surge. Also, look for the backlash to dessert—savory “Breath” strains like Garlic Breath and GMO Cookies.
2. CBD returns to earth
CBD will experience an inevitable cooling-off period, as adults realize it can be a potent medicine and a helpful wellness product but is not a panacea. News flash: Nothing ever is.
3. Terpenes in season
We’ll see more terpene information offered to consumers, plus new research on potential benefits, as well as information on the harms of consuming high concentrations of terps.
4. Vaping fight
Vaping—both cannabis and nicotine—will rise as a public health and personal liberty issue in 2020. Vast swaths of the US will enact local vape bans.
Governors Jay Inslee (WA) and Charlie Baker (MA) will move to install their all-vape ban as a permanent state law via the legislature. Both efforts will fail, rebuffed by Republicans on largely libertarian grounds and backed by corporate lobbying.
We’ll see renewed marketing around flower, flower vapes, and rosins. A new focus on ‘clean, unmanipulated cannabis’ will come to the fore.
5. Price chops
California prices will fall, Oregon prices will rise, Washington prices should stay flat. Michigan’s sky high opening-month prices will gradually fall, as will the sticker-shock numbers in Illinois.
6. Exotic cannabinoids become more common
7. Congress takes half-steps
In Congress, we’ll see progress but not complete victory. The MORE Act, the leading federal cannabis legalization bill, will pass the House but stall in the Senate. The SAFE Banking Act, which passed the House in 2019, will pass in the Senate in 2020. President Trump will hedge but ultimately sign the banking measure based on a state’s rights argument.
8. FDA cracks down on vaping
The FDA will act tough on vapes, introducing new nationwide rules that will slow but not kill the industry.
FDA officials will also saber-rattle and brush back CBD marketers. The federal agency will approve more uses for pharmaceutical CBD and assert more of their regulatory authority over non-pharma uses. But the gray area will endure because the FDA lacks the resources, and has bigger priorities, given CBD’s overall safety.
9. Border problems continue
Cannabis problems at international borders—both north and south—won’t abate in 2020. Count on more celebrities getting busted crossing international lines with cannabis, especially in those private jets.
10. Lounges spread out
Licensed places to consume cannabis will expand beyond California in 2020. Colorado will finally roll them out, and Illinois may bring them too. Bonus: Tribal operations in legal states will push to open consumption lounges as part of their on-reservation dining-gaming-hotel-spa entertainment offerings.
11. Testing tightens up
Deaths from contaminated THC vaporizer cartridges ended vaping’s age of innocence in 2019. We foresee a year-long reckoning in 2020, with states tightening vaping rules, often beyond what science dictates.
Stung by its stumbles on EVALI (e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury), regulators in Washington state must kill the bugs in their testing and track & trace programs and demand that state-licensed cannabis products be tested for pesticides.
12. Three new adult-use states
We wish we could present a rosier picture, but the presidential election is going to take up a lot of oxygen in 2020.
Legalization has already happened in the most likely states (the West Coast, Massachusetts). The next battles will happen in more traditionally conservative regions: the Midwest and the South.
2020 could be a year of consolidating gains, with no new major state or federal progress. We’ll see legislatures debate as only an incremental step. We’ll see new states try ballot initiatives and do well, but ultimately not pass. It took California 30 years to move from medical to adult-use legalization. In many states, voters have yet to fully digest medical legalization and reach a comfort level with the idea of adult use.
- New York legalization will pass, barely, in the legislature.
- New Jersey will come close but fail due to petty Democratic party infighting.
- New Mexico legalization will be hotly debated but ultimately fail in the legislature.
- No legalization in Connecticut, Rhode Island, or Pennsylvania.
- Arizona voters will narrowly approve legalization at the ballot box. You gotta have hope.
- Ohio votes narrowly yes, we hope.
- Florida voters consider legalization but ultimately vote no.
- Medical legalization will pass at the ballot box in Idaho and South Dakota.
13. Research shines light on vaping
An accruing body of research will better inform vape regulations, but there will be no breakthrough study that shows vaping to be conclusively harmful or completely without risk.
14. Policing priorities
- The DEA and federal task forces are going to make high-profile raids on illicit THC vape cart factories.
- More local officials are going to be busted for cannabis licensing-related bribery.
- More vape brands like Kushy Punch will be found to have sold into the illicit market—and lose their licenses.
15. California transitions, slowly
California’s transition from illicit to licensed market continues to happen slowly, while cannabis tourism finally takes off. The state will break $2 billion in taxes collected and do another $800 million-plus in taxes in 2020.
16. Los Angeles fiddles while illicit market thrives
Los Angeles will add few new licensed stores and administer a litigated rollout of equity licenses. Threats of property forfeiture and arrest will boost illicit online, mobile, and pop-up outlets.
17. Advertising fights for air
Look for more restrictions on ads for vaping products. Anti-cannabis public messaging will also ramp up, funded by cannabis tax dollars. Effects claims like “sleep” and “calm” will come under new regulatory scrutiny.
18. Cultivation goes mechanized
The cannabis industry will see more industrialization—fresh-frozen harvest, mechanization in processing hemp, patented strains for sale, more mixed-light greenhouse growing, and oil-cropping, where an entire field gets turned to cannabis oil, instead of flower.
19. Hemp dreams not fully realized
Growing hemp will remain a money loser until supply can connect with demand, via USDA rules and state adoption—and even then, there will be gluts and huge amounts of perfectly good plants destroyed for having THC levels above the 0.3% limit.
20. Taxes: Lot of talk, no relief
Sorry, there will be no federal tax relief from IRS section 280E in 2020. Legal states will open conversations about resetting tax rates in order to battle illicit market sales, but few will act.