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Reading the tea leaves: What 10 cannabis bigwigs predict 2020 will bring to the world of weed

In Pennsylvania, you’ll see more supply coming to the market in 2020. Meanwhile a referendum in New Jersey could accelerate the push to legalization.

This photo from March 22, 2019, shows grower Heather Randazzo trimming leaves of marijuana plants at Compassionate Care Foundation's medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. A planned referendum in the Garden State could accelerate efforts to legalize recreational marijuana.
This photo from March 22, 2019, shows grower Heather Randazzo trimming leaves of marijuana plants at Compassionate Care Foundation's medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. A planned referendum in the Garden State could accelerate efforts to legalize recreational marijuana.Read moreJulio Cortez / AP

The last year proved to be a rocky one for the marijuana industry.

Stock prices of the publicly traded cannabis companies plummeted, with the market capitalization for the biggest crashing 45% since the end of March.

But for consumers, things are gearing up.

Eleven states have legalized marijuana for adult use. Thirty-three now allow patients to have access to medical marijuana. In Pennsylvania, full legalization has the support of Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. In New Jersey, a ballot question on legalization will be put to voters in November.

Customers in states east of the Mississippi River found it difficult to find flower at dispensaries. CEOs of the big multi-state operators say they’re addressing those bottlenecks.

The Inquirer asked cannabis movers and shakers from the region and the nation about their predictions for the coming year.

Their responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Charlie Bachtel, CEO of Cresco Labs, a multi-state grower and dispensary owner

In Pennsylvania, you’ll see more supply coming to the market in 2020. And it will be just like you learn in Econ. 101. More supply should help stabilize prices, create lower-priced options, and make it less frustrating for people. You’ll see more [forms], a diversity of price points, and a larger array of products that will range from good to better to best.

For the rest of the country, I’m bullish on the SAFE [Banking] Act, which addresses the public safety concerns associated with an all-cash industry. If it passes, it will allow us bank accounts where cash can be deposited and should make it possible for consumers to use credit cards at dispensaries and cannabis retailers. It also could provide access for companies such as ours to list on U.S. stock exchanges.

Social equity will be one of the pillars that will get state legislation passed. An emphasis on tax revenue won’t be enough. It’s hard to create an industry that will generate hundreds of millions in sales a year if you still have people with minor marijuana offenses on their records that keep them from being employable. That’s a hypocrisy that needs to be addressed.

State Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery)

As the author of Senate Bill 350, the Adult Use bill, I have a keen interest in what happens in cannabis. We see the rest of the country moving in the direction of getting rid of prohibition — which is a cruel, heartless, irrational and racist policy — and substituting it with something where people have safe products, there’s tax revenue, there’s licensed entrepreneurs instead of violent drug cartels.

This [Pennsylvania legalization bill] will pass. The question is how soon.

I predict that Pennsylvania [will adopt adult use] by spring of 2021. That day will be accelerated if New Jersey can get it done. If New York can do it, that will put economic pressure on us to get it done. I think spring of 2020 we’ll start dismantling the machinery of prohibition in Pennsylvania.

Rebecca Uhl, founder of 420EDx: Cannabis Education Experiences

CBD is going to get some federal regulations. The vape crisis isn’t going away. And New Jersey will pass their Adult Use referendum.

We’ll begin to see cannabis incorporated into mainstream health and wellness with the rise of cannabis research. I’m a huge fan of nanotechnology [using tiny particles] and think we will see some companies incorporate nano THC.

Chris Goldstein, activist, organizer for South Jersey NORML

In Pennsylvania we should see real progress in getting legalization bills heard before the Legislature in 2020. In New Jersey, it’ll be a mess, because everyone will still be working on the Legislature to pass a legalization bill while others are rallying voters for the constitutional referendum.

At the same time, both states will be trying to alleviate arrests. Pennsylvania has a Clean Slate program and New Jersey has expungements, but both plans will require significant work in 2020 to start clearing records.

Nationally, so many candidates will run on reforming cannabis laws that it will inevitably be part of the presidential election. It also will play a major role in the big congressional races.

You’ll see weed-branded celebrities get more serious about Philadelphia. Look at the Made in America [concert] lineup. Nearly all those stars have cannabis brands now. Legalized cannabis is becoming mainstream with Major League Baseball easing rules for players.

Last, but not least, the big legalized weed companies will have to figure out how to compete against the black market, because illegal weed will get better, cheaper and more available.

David Tuttleman, boutique marijuana producer, founder of Matrix NV

2019 was a year of humility [for the industry] and 2020 will be a year of rebuilding and creating opportunity.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania as a region should unify and be timely with each other. Medical is a great place to start. I support the medical community. My family has for many years. Adult Use is where the industry is heading.

Chris Walsh, co-founder and CEO of MJBizDaily and MJBizCon

Next year, we’re going to see some more pain in California. It’s had a lot of growth but a lot of challenges. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. But the long-term prospects are great. Also, Canada has experienced a lot of problems and I think they’ll get on the right path next year.

We’re going to see several states legalize next year, on the medical front either through the legislature or the ballot box, and we’ll also see several states legalize recreational cannabis.

New Jersey is a prime candidate to legalize recreational cannabis next year. The debate [there] isn’t whether we should legalize it — but how. Pennsylvania is another candidate to legalize adult-use cannabis in the next year or two. I hope to see both of those markets become powerhouses in the industry.

Mina Mishrikey, operating partner at Merida Capital

We’re at an inflection point. Especially in the state of California.You’ll see a lot of culling of brands, and potentially vertical operators. You’ll see the strongest survive: I mean folks that have access to capital. I think we’ll see the passage of the SAFE [Banking] Act for banking relief. The STATES Act [which would have the federal government recognize cannabis laws in the states] is probably a few years away and a post-election exercise regardless of whether Trump is in the White House or not.

Given the conservative nature of Pennsylvania, it will be difficult for the governor and lieutenant governor to pass something legislatively. Ultimately, I think it goes the path of New Jersey and becomes a ballot initiative.

Ellie Siegel, founder and CEO of Longview Strategic

In 2020 and 2021, what I see is greater understanding, expansion of education and information to consumers, patients, and people in the Northeast and MidAtlantic. Specifically for New Jersey and Pennsylvania, municipal leaders are going to start to understand cannabis a bit better.

The expansion of the medical programs in those states will provide a lot of steam for what’s going to be in the future for Adult Use programs.

If they’ll pass it, they’ll legislate it, and they’ll get rules down and you’ll see a program there in 2021.

Erich Mauff, co-founder and president of Jushi Holdings, a multi-state operator that includes Beyond/Hello dispensaries

I think Pennsylvania continues to be a fantastic program. I’d like to see all 24 of [grower processors] up and running. That will bring down pricing so patients will finally get cannabis that’s not $3,500 to $4,000 a pound. We have a decent shot over the next 18 to 24 months that the state of Pennsylvania will think seriously about adult use.

Seth A. Goldberg, head of Cannabis Group at Duane Morris LLP

We’ll see adult-use in Illinois. While vaping bans are likely to be removed, additional restrictions around THC vaping could be imposed by states.

The hemp space seems situated to expand as the regulations become more clear, and the federal banking regulators have recently announced that hemp can be banked like any other legal product.

A lot is contingent on the federal government. If the STATES Rights Act or SAFE Banking Act were to pass, the latter of which seems to have the best chance in 2020, there will be a boost. Conversely, tightening of enforcement by the federal government could have the opposite effect. FDA regulations around vaping and CBD as a drug, dietary supplement, food/beverage may also be issued in 2020, which would shape the market for those products.

Bottom line, businesses and individuals in 2020 must remain mindful of the differences between the federal and state regulatory framework and the state-by-state regulatory patchwork, and be nimble in responding to changes.