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By Melissa Hutsell
Last month, members of the U.S. House of Representatives made a historic move toward federal cannabis legalization by passing the MORE Act. But, as two-thirds of Americans favor legalization, access remains limited in the nation’s largest markets.
The passage of the act came one week after a PEW Research study found that nine in ten Americans support legalizing cannabis for recreational or medical purposes.
As of this year, more than half of U.S. states have legalized cannabis in some form. However, some statewide markets are at a stand still.
Opt Out Models Deny Million Access in States with Voter Approval
California is the world’s largest consumer market. Yet, access to legal cannabis is limited. As of Dec. 2019, 75% of the state’s population (40 million) live in municipalities that ban retail sales.
The legalization model allows local jurisdictions to opt out of the adult-use market. Many states, including Michigan—which launched legal sales this week—follow similar models. As a result, some of the state’s most populous regions, including Detroit, lack access to legal weed.
While Michigan’s adult-use market takes shape, California’s is contracting.
Thousands of shops were expected to pop-up in California after Prop 64 passed in Nov. 2016. And they did. But, the state’s legal market is now smaller than in 2018.
According to MJ Biz Daily data, the number of licenses issued in California dropped dramatically. Between 2018-2019, the amount of cultivation licenses dropped 49% from 5,381 to 2,795. Last year, 637 retail licenses were issued. This year, only 592.
Alex Traverso, chief of communications at California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), says that it will depend on local jurisdictions whether to issue more licenses in 2020.
What About the East Coast?
There are only ten registered medical cannabis organizations in New York. Each licensee can have up to four retail locations.
The state has yet to legalize adult-use cannabis; when it does, the amount of retail location will surely go up. Overall there are 37 medical shops (with three opening soon)—that’s in a state with a population of 20 million.
The Future is Grey for Legal Cannabis
It remains to be seen whether or not representatives in either state will expand access to legal markets in 2020, and grant more licenses. What is certain is that there’s a growing disparity between populations who want access to legal cannabis, and actual legal access.
The result is that millions of consumers are underserved, and billions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on regulated products are instead going to the black market.