Is 2018 the Year Legal Cannabis Finally Comes of Age?

With the market maturing at a rapid rate, even skeptics are taking notice.
Guest Writer
Co-founder and executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA)
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Have you noticed that cannabis retailers are starting to spend more money on modern architecture, tasteful design, and premium customer experiences? That corporate cannabis titans are boldly embarking on multimillion-dollar joint ventures and M&A? That tie-dye shirts are being replaced by business attire at cannabis conventions?

It’s true -- the regulated cannabis market has rapidly evolved from its bootstrapped infancy just a few years ago, to a highly sophisticated industry leading the charge on modern retail experiences and cutting-edge research and development in the medical and business sectors.

Sexy, cutesy branding and hype strategies that defined much of the early industry ethos now feel increasingly outdated and are falling by the wayside as state markets mature and consumers gravitate toward sleeker, smarter, more contemporary messaging. In today’s competitive legal cannabis landscape, successful companies and entrepreneurs are those that prioritize education, professionalism and quality business connections -- not flashy marketing gimmicks.

And this shift is something I’ve closely watched and appreciated over the past decade after founding the National Cannabis Industry Association in 2010 to bring these legal businesses together and give the burgeoning industry a collective voice and national presence.

A New Day in Retail

We’re way past the toe-dipping stage in many states, where savvy cannabis retailers, cultivators, manufacturers, distributors and ancillary businesses have already set up shop and worked out their initial operational kinks. Now they’re embracing innovation, solving advanced problems and developing new products to give them an edge over competitors.

Cannabis doesn’t just sell itself anymore -- at least, not in states where regulated markets are saturated with high-quality, reasonably-priced cannabis products. With states opening the door to research, studies are progressing on the building blocks of cannabis -- cannabinoids and terpenes -- for use in medical applications and retail products. And new technologies are driving product development and business solutions, from inventive vaporizer designs to e-commerce platforms and CRM sales software for retailers and more. As B2B trumps B2C, successful companies are embracing inter-organizational synergy and streamlining operations to a new level of efficiency.

Related: The Bright Future of Cannabis Retail

Cannabis Trade Shows are Growing Up

Heavily regulated legal cannabis is becoming a respected industry, right alongside construction, manufacturing and tech. Market research firm Cowen & Co. has projected that the U.S. cannabis industry could hit $75 billion in sales by 2030. That’s nearly the size of the North American carbonated soft-drink market, according to Bloomberg.

With numbers like that, it’s not surprising government officials are taking real interest in bringing cannabis business to their states and cities. And one prominent way they’re connecting is at cannabis business conferences, which have evolved along with the maturing industry.

These reps want companies to headquarter themselves in their regions, boost their local economies and create jobs for their constituencies. They’re looking for education about the industry and to forge relationships with established players who have proven track records of compliance and sound business practices. And they’ll find them at NCIA’s California Cannabis Business Conference (CCBC) this fall in Anaheim.

Likewise, it’s a harmonic convergence of CEOs, state and local regulators, qualified investors, and decision-makers, offering opportunities to develop business leads, grow networks, and invest in solutions to overcome challenges in the Golden State.

California is still working through a difficult transition period, as the state irons out kinks in its newly regulated adult-use marijuana marketplace -- the nation’s largest -- which launched retail sales on Jan. 1, 2018. Local bans, over regulation, low supply, and the future of “craft cannabis,” are just a few of the key issues stakeholders will be addressing at this year’s CCBC.

Companies that can’t or won’t improve operations to meet or exceed today’s industry standards, will quickly find themselves unable to compete in this sector. It’s a hard truth for many to swallow, but it’s the truth nonetheless.

And ultimately, the cutting-edge research and innovation, strict regulatory requirements, and pleasant retail experiences that define modern cannabis markets benefit consumers and move us closer toward realizing our federal policy goals.

Related: 3 Trade-Show Tips for Meeting the Right People and Make a Memorable Impression

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