5 Important Cannabis Storylines From 2019


2019 was a rather tumultuous year for North American cannabis companies.

A nationwide vaping crises sent more than 2,600 Americans to the hospital with lung injuries and resulted in 60 deaths. 

Cannabis stocks plummeted, and some publicly-traded companies lost upwards of 80% of their value over the last nine months of the year.

Prominent players like MedMen, Aurora Cannabis, Canopy Growth Corporation, and Cresco Labs made efforts to right-size their businesses by announcing key executive changes, slashing jobs, cancelling planned acquisitions or by initiating other cash-saving measures.

In spite of the negative storylines that seemed to plague the industry, there were plenty of reasons to remain optimistic about the future growth of the marijuana market.

Here are a few of the more notable cannabis headlines from 2019.

Americans Overwhelmingly Support Federal Legalization

A December Marist Poll found that 62% of adults believe federal marijuana legalization is a “good idea,” with 76% of democrats and democrat-leaning independents supporting federal legalization, compared to 44% of republicans and republican-leaning independents.

At the beginning of the decade, only 42% of Americans were in favor of legal marijuana, according to a Fox News survey. 

Earlier in the year, a Gallup poll found that 66% of U.S. adults were in favor of legalizing cannabis, while 81% Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 supported federal legalization.


House Passes SAFE Banking Act

Perhaps one of the biggest victories of the year came at the end of September, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act of 2019 with a bipartisan vote of 321-103. 

The SAFE Act was the first standalone cannabis bill to pass through either chamber of the U.S. Congress, and it has since stalled in the Senate. Nevertheless, the measure paves the way for banks to conduct business with state-approved marijuana companies in legal states without facing criminal or civil charges.

Since the sale of marijuana is not federally legal, cannabis companies deal mostly in cash, a practice that invites nefarious behavior such as theft and tax evasion, according to advocates for the legislation. 

MORE Act Moves Ahead

Meanwhile, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and create a 5% tax on all cannabis products. 

As written, the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019 would remove marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, create a Cannabis Justice Office tasked with administering grants to individuals most adversely impacted by the War on Drugs, and require federal courts to expunge cannabis-related offenses within one year of its passage. 

Over 663,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related crimes in 2018, according to NORML, and the MORE Act is a light at the end of the prohibition tunnel. 

The House Judiciary Committee’s vote to advance the measure also marked the first time a congressional committee has passed a bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level.


Adult-Use Sales Begin in Illinois 

2019 saw the last gasp of marijuana prohibition in Illinois, as it became the nation’s 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana and the first to do it through the state legislature.

Recreational sales of marijuana in Illinois officially commenced on the first day of 2020 and retailers sold nearly $11 million during the first week alone. 

In addition to hauling in millions of dollars and processing hundreds of thousands of transactions, there was another reason to smile.

Under state law, individuals with convictions involving the possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana will have their cases referred to Gov. Pritzker for a pardon — and the Governor wasted no time, granting more than 11,000 pardons for low-level cannabis convictions on December 31.

“We are ending the 50-year long war on cannabis,” Pritzker said in a statement. “We are restoring rights to many tens of thousands of Illinoisans. We are bringing regulation and safety to a previously unsafe and illegal market. And we are creating a new industry that puts equity at its very core.”

BDS Analytics, a research firm that tracks cannabis sales in the U.S., estimates that marijuana sales in Illinois will grow at a 41% compound annual rate through 2024. Also by 2024, Illinois is predicted to become the fifth largest cannabis market in the U.S. and the seventh largest market in the world.

Major League Baseball Revises Marijauna Policy

Professional sports suited up for cannabis-related rules reviews in 2019, led in part by Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). 

In December, the MLB and MLBPA jointly announced “significant changes to the Drug of Abuse provisions of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program” 

The organizations continued their focus on a treatment-based approach to drug abuse and protecting players from “lethal and addictive substances,” along with confidential care and support.

Beginning in the 2020 season, players testing positive for the presence of opioids, fentanyl, cocaine and synthetic THC will be referred to a “Parties’ Joint Treatment Board” for a personalized treatment plan. Only those players failing to cooperate with initial evaluation and treatment plan will be disciplined. 

Meanwhile, natural cannabinoids such as THC and CBD have been removed from the Program’s list of drugs, and resulting conduct will be treated similar to alcohol-related conduct. 

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