The 5 Biggest Things That Happened to Cannabis in 2019

As we close out the decade, we're reflecting on some of the biggest things to happen within the US cannabis industry in 2019.

To many, the cannabis industry has been something to pay close attention to. We're witnessing the beginning of the end of the War on Drugs, as cannabis is made legal in an increasing number of states and countries. Additionally, the number of medicinal and commercial uses for the plant continues to grow with each year.

However, while the cannabis industry has grown tremendously over the past few years, there have been plenty of ups and downs along the way. As a result, we've decided to look at some of the cannabis industry's biggest milestones in 2019.

So buckle up and sit tight as we bring you our top five events in the cannabis industry for this year.

1. The Vaping Crisis

While cannabis made strides in 2019, it also had its setbacks. One of the major setbacks for the marijuana industry was undoubtedly the vaping crisis which occurred in August.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that to date, more than 2,500 lung illnesses and 54 deaths have occurred largely as a result of using cannabis vaporizers.

The disease has been almost exclusively targeting men in their late teens to early 20s. In all cases, victims have reported heavy usage of vaping either nicotine, THC or in some cases both.

The symptoms are a combination of shortness of breath, chest pains, lots of vomiting and nausea, and fatigue and fever. Most come in reporting difficulty breathing, and some have ended up having to stay in hospital for lengthy periods of time, hooked up to ventilators and other intensive care equipment.

The CDC does not have data on every victim, but in a recent announcement, they were able to identify that 76.9% of the cases reported using THC, with only 56.8% reporting the use of nicotine.

While all but one of the reported cases has been associated with products from the black/illicit market, consumer confidence in vaping products hit an all-time low. Several states even implemented vaping bans, such as Massachusetts, who temporarily stopped the sale of all vaping products, and Oregon and Washington who both enforced emergency bans on flavored vaping products.

This couldn't have happened at a worse time for the global cannabis industry, especially with Canada in the midst of its second phase of legalization.

2. The Passage of the SAFE Banking Act

While cannabis is legal in 11 states in the U.S. for recreational consumption, the plant remains federally illegal and sits alongside heroin as a schedule 1 substance. This strict scheduling placed a massive red flag around the industry for banks and financiers, who could've been charged with aiding and abetting a federal crime if they came into contact with the plant.

This left the cannabis industry virtually unable to deal with banks, with many stores requiring that shoppers pay in cash.

Companies then had to store their money in vaults, often with armed security guards and vans for when it needs to be transported.

Though this all changed with the passage of the SAFE Banking Act on September 25th.

The Act was introduced in order to provide protection for financial institutions that chose to provide loans to cannabis businesses in states where the plant is legal. This opened the floodgates for cannabis companies to gain access to loans, as well as handling their cash through banks rather than in paper form.

Members of the House voted overwhelmingly to pass the SAFE Banking Act, which not only loosened the tight regulations surrounding cannabis but was also indicative of the bi-partisan support of the cannabis industry.

3. Illinois Becomes 11th State to Legalize Weed

As we saw this year with Colorado hitting $1bn in marijuana tax revenue, there are clearly massive benefits that follow marijuana legalization. It's only natural that other states would want to follow Colorado's lead, which is exactly what happened with Illinois in June this year.

On June 3rd, the Illinois House passed HB 1438 to legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older on a 66 to 47 vote.

At the time, Governor J.B. Pritzker stated that "the state of Illinois just made history, legalizing adult-use cannabis with the most equity-centric approach in the nation. This will have a transformational impact on our state, creating opportunity in the communities that need it most and giving so many a second chance."

The bill allowed for adults aged 21 and older to legally hold up to an ounce of cannabis, with tourists allowed to legally hold 15 grams. Those with past convictions for possession of less than an ounce of cannabis can now also get their records cleared.

4. Major League Baseball Stops Testing For Pot

Only a few weeks ago, in Mid December, the MLB, Major League Baseball, officially removed cannabis from its list of "drugs of abuse," shifting focus onto fentanyl, opioids cocaine and synthetic THC rather than marijuana use.

Previously, when MLB players were found guilty of marijuana offenses, they could face a fine of up to $35,000 per violation. Now, marijuana-related offenses fall in line with alcohol-related offenses, meaning that if players test positive for cannabis, they will receive treatment and evaluation rather than a fine.

On the reason for the lessened focus upon cannabis and increased focus on opioids, Dan Halem, the MLB Deputy Commissioner stated that "the opioid epidemic in our country is an issue of significant concern to Major League Baseball."

The move represented a massive shift in how sports perceive different drugs, as well as an acknowledgment that opioids are far worse than cannabis and should be treated as such.

5. Continued CBD Uncertainty

At the beginning of 2019, Cannabidiol (CBD) was poised to be the next superstar within the cannabis industry. While cannabis remained federally illegal, hemp was made legal in 2018 thanks to the Farm Bill. This meant that hemp-derived CBD was legal for citizens and retailers to do what they'd like with it.

As a result, CBD found its way into beverages, foods, cosmetics, wellness, and just about any other industry you can think of. The compound was growing so quickly that BDS Analytics and Arcview Market Research concluded that CBD sales could surpass $20 billion by 2024 in the US alone.

The only issue is, those selling CBD-infused products felt perhaps a little too confident in the cannabinoid compound's capacities, making outlandish claims that it could cure cancer, eliminate anxiety and so on.

However, the truth is that very little conclusive research has been performed on the CBD compound. As a result, states like New York decided to ban CBD edibles, and the FDA has had to confiscate supplies that contained the compound from a growing number of retailers who made misleading claims about their products.

Most recently, the FDA sent warning letters to 15 companies that sell CBD products, notifying them that they are in violation of federal law, while also officially updating its stance on cannabidiol, now stating that that the compound may potentially harm users.

The announcement sent shockwaves through the CBD industry, which remains in a state of uncertainty as the compound continues to sit in a legal grey area, with consumers edging to buy it and retailers becoming increasingly wary of selling it.

So there you have it, cannabis' top five moments of 2019. It's been a wild year and it's looking like 2020 will only make more headway when it comes to everyone's favourite herb.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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