In 1996, the modern-day cannabis industry was forever changed when medical cannabis was legalized in California. In the years that followed, cannabis legalization became a global phenomenon and spread to other countries and continents. Today, over 50 countries have legal cannabis programs and 6 countries have also legalized use for adults.

The evolution of the cannabis industry can be divided into three eras:

Marijuana plant leaf

The Infancy Years

During this period (1996-2018), many industry players were driven by a passion for cannabis and its therapeutic benefits which were widely based on anecdotal evidence. Unfortunately, these industry forerunners were generally ill equipped to handle high growth businesses and were focused on secrecy, in addition to having little to no understanding of the need for regulatory compliance.

Investors lacked the necessary knowledge to perform effective due diligence. Additionally, they failed to understand that as with most mainstream agricultural crops, the cannabis flower would inevitably turn into just another commodity.

The Adolescence Years

The era we are currently in began in 2019. This era has been defined by increasing regulatory oversight, intensified competition, and continuous product development. This has been overshadowed by short-term opportunists and market speculators entering the market. Capital access has played a significant role in a company’s abilities to grow and become a competitor in the market, and flower prices drop as a result of competition and oversupply. Venture capital and private equity groups with at best limited expertise in the cannabis industry are backing large-scale operations.

However smart investors are on the lookout for new ventures to add true value to the market, in particular in technology-driven companies which service the industry. These technology companies can ride the upward trajectory of the product and have higher profitability than cultivation-based operations. In the words of Mark Twain: “During a gold rush, it’s a good time to be in the picks and shovels business.”

This era is likely to continue until cannabis is legalized on a federal level in the United States, which could happen during the first term of the Biden Administration, although nothing is guaranteed.

Full Maturity

Once cannabis becomes legalized at a federal level, the industry will enter the era of full maturity, which will be defined by the wide legalization of cannabis for adult use. Therapeutic/well-being uses will likely be supported by new scientific evidence, and a new wave of pharmaceutical drugs may enter the market after years of research and clinical trials.

International trade will be facilitated and corporations will be the major players of the industry, as is the case in the pharmaceutical and food industries. Playing a major role in supporting the industry’s capital needs will be professional institutional investors, and cannabis will become just another commodity.

Maximizing yield will become a focus and economies of scale will be critical. Focus will also be shifted to quality assurance and an increase in productivity and throughput, and more value will be placed on brands.

NBA Freezes Cannabis Testing for the 2020-21 Season: What About the Next One?

The NBA recently announced their decision to no longer test players for cannabis use during the 2020-2021 seasons. Previously, the NBA has waived the need for drug testing due to the need to limit contact with players during the pandemic, while trying to manage the already complex rules set in place for the shortened season. The announcement that the NBA would once again skip testing for cannabis use may hint at significant changes in the future of sports and drug testing.

Players and Pain Management

Cannabis is already well known for its medical benefits and its ability to help people treat chronic pain, and NBA players are supposedly no different, reportedly using cannabis for pain management and to counter inflammation. Despite the heavy penalties previously given for cannabis use by the NBA, it is estimated that 50%-80% of players have used cannabis to treat the health conditions mentioned above. Additionally, while cannabis is a drug, is far from a performance-enhancing one, and does not give an added advantage to athletes who use it compared to any other painkiller.

One NBA veteran pushing for greater acceptance of cannabis in the world’s leading basketball league is Al Harington. Harington had used CBD in 2012 while rehabilitating a knee damaged by multiple botched surgeries. Since then, not only has the former basketballer become a vocal advocate for medical cannabis, he has also started a company to produce and market medicinal and recreational cannabis products.

What the Industry Can Do to Further Cannabis Acceptance in Sports

To make medical cannabis less stigmatized and to allow the NBA, as well as other sports leagues, to adopt long-term pro-cannabis policies, scientific research into treatment safety and efficacy must be promoted by the cannabis industry.

Until December of 2018, the federal government classified CBD as a “Schedule I” substance, making performing studies of it extremely complicated. While studies done on animals or in conjunction with other active substances found in cannabis, such as THC, do exist, it is difficult to draw any conclusive evidence from them that CBD alone can be used to treat pain in humans.

In order for medical cannabis use to gain further acceptance in sports, the cannabis industry must take matters into its own hands. Industry leaders must undertake the responsibility of performing or at least encouraging high quality, long-term tests performed on humans, from which conclusive results can then be drawn from. Unfortunately, there currently seems to be no shortcut for making cannabis a mainstream therapeutic treatment in the 21st century.