Unless you’ve been really, spaced out, you’ve heard about the wave of legalization for medical and recreational marijuana use in the U.S. or in a country like Uruguay (the first nation to legalize possession, coming in 2015). You’ve also seen the buzz of media on how ramped-up legalization has spawned an explosive (what they dub) cannabusiness market, led by sophisticated ganja-preneurs who are reinventing who consumes marijuana and the many ways it can be used essentially taking it from dorm room to boardroom, from dime-bag to Hermes bag, and from counter-culture to over-the-counter, with sleek dispensaries that are channeling Apple stores. After decades of prohibition, marijuana is suddenly undergoing a makeover: more people worldwide view it as socially acceptable and medically important, and whole new markets and products are busily being invented. Once-lowly weed has become a real industry, growing like weeds.
FUELING THE TREND
Medical Evidence Because cannabis has been long criminalized (legally equated with substances like heroin), both medical studies and pharmaceuticals have been held back. Over 100 trials on medical cannabis exist (the vast majority positive), with the strongest evidence of benefit for nausea, wasting in AIDS and cancer, epileptic seizures, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and chronic pain. On the recreational side (for stress reduction, help sleeping, etc.) the issue is cannabis compared to what. Alcohol accounts for more health damage, deaths and violence than all illicit drugs combined, and people are far more likely to become dependent on alcohol than cannabis3 And, according to a 2013 UCLA meta-review,4 even regular pot smokers have no greater risk of cancer.
The U.S. (obviously) has no lock on cannabis use: between 125-227 million people globally use it, with Africa, Oceania, Europe and North America having highest usage rates5. The cannabis legality map is a complex patchwork of green (indicating those dozen nations where personal and/or medical consumption is either legal or decriminalized, like Canada, Norway, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, etc.), even more gray (nations where it’s technically illegal but tolerated, like across most of Latin America and Europe) and black (firmly criminalized, like China). But blanket prohibition is on the decline. In 23 U.S. states medical marijuana is now legal, and Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. just joined Colorado and Washington in legalizing recreational usage unthinkable five years ago. In 2016 many more states (like California, recreational) are expected to put it on the ballot. And NBC News recently stated that national U.S. legalization of marijuana is attaining an aura of inevitability. Globally, everyone will be watching trailblazer Uruguay in 2015, the first nation to legalize possession for citizens. Every week, you read about different national legislatures debating more legalization from Austria, to Australia, to Colombia, to Jamaica (where activist associations list wellness, travel and spas as some key markets ripe with opportunity). And even nations that mete out harsh punishments for possession are investing in the market. In fact, more than half the medical/wellness cannabis patents filed with the World Intellectual Property Office have come from Chinese companies.
Stress Salvation Seeking Humans are crushed by unprecedented stress, and the desire to re-set our toxically overloaded minds is fueling a rise in interest for both meditation and marijuana. Many purists would reject the latter, but many mere, mortal humans prefer a little cannabis to the happy hour, Xanax or Ambien hangovers. Almost every stay spa serves wine, and wine and beer are of course slathered over people in treatments. So, if many wellness businesses will say no to a THC cannabis connection (even though it’s natural, herbal medicine), others will ponder what that would look like with open minds.
A key aspect of this transformation is in language, with cannabis now replacing marijuana as the more scientific, less historically fraught term, as there are thousands of uses (from textiles to food) for this super-plant that has been used by humans for medicinal purposes for 8,000+ years, with the modern prohibition representing the historical anomaly. There are 66 unique chemical cannabanoids locked within the plant (many with therapeutic uses), even if the world tends to narrowly associate it with just one, Cannabis Sativa with THC, the only component that actually produces a high. In now-legal medical/recreational markets, the way that psychoactive THC is getting delivered is being radically innovated: less healthy pot smoking is being replaced with odorless new vaporizer pens (vape was Oxford Dictionaries’ 2014 word of the year) and with haute cuisine edibles that could grace a Bon appetite cover. And non-THC cannabanoids are seeing new applications for problems like pain, anxiety, epilepsy, MS and other neurological disorders, and are the key ingredient in more and more topical lotions and beauty products.