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Cannabis Trends in 2018, and What They Mean for the Massachusetts Market

Recreational cannabis sales in Massachusetts are on-target to start July 1st, 2018. If you're interested in working in the field of commercialized cannabis, it's a good time to think about the opportunities.

Cannabis cafés and home delivery could create a lot of jobs, but state leaders have pushed that decision off until 2019. In the meantime, there's a lot going on in the industry. If you're curious about entering the business yourself, here are seven trends that could position you for success.

1.) Sales Are Looking Good Elsewhere

U.S. cannabis sales hit $5.86 billion in 2016, and across many states, the recreational cannabis market is growing rapidly. Nevada, which rolled out its program last year and reached retail sales of $60 million in its first two months, is expected to exceed $250 million in sales by this year’s end. Maine, whose program is delayed, has a market potential of $250-350 million. By comparison, Massachusetts’s is $650-$750 million.

2.) Research Is Growing

To date, more than 26,000 studies on cannabis have been published in the U.S. Last year, for the first time ever, a research institution was established just to study the plant. This shows a firm shift in mindset: that cannabis is a medicine and should be taken seriously. Research has stripped some taboo from the idea of becoming a cannabis entrepreneur, researcher, or in-store expert, and can only become more advanced.

3.) Craft Cannabis

Similar to the tradition of craft beer, there’s a growing industry trend for more craft cannabis. Genetic advances aren’t just allowing businesses to make more consistent products and promote better understanding of their effects. They also allow cannabis farms to hone and distribute special, branded strains in limited batches to aficionados in the know. This creates an exciting gap for cultivators, and at the business level, it opens doors to premium brands that could command higher prices.

4.) Other Special Products

Brand-new to recreational cannabis, Massachusetts will provide access to thousands of consumers who have never or seldom used it. Other legal states were at that stage once. To protect their beginners from uncomfortable experiences, they shifted toward products higher in CBD content (which provide the benefits without the high) or smaller in size (for smaller doses). On the medical side, use of higher CBD strains and microdosing are already growing trends. That's a smart model for recreational to follow, especially for beginners.

5.) Cannabis over Alcohol

As more and more states legalize medical and recreational cannabis, consumers are making cannabis their recreational substance of choice. It may even be considered a substitute for alcohol, one study found. The numbers back this up: recreational cannabis is being purchased more than alcohol, it’s preferred by 51 percent of millennials, and beer sales have dropped in states where cannabis is legal. Added to research efforts to promote cannabis as a safer alternative to alcohol (and opioids), this bodes well for overall cannabis market.

6.) Cannabinoids in Healthcare

Things continue to look very promising for the medical cannabis industry, whose patients still outspend recreational users nearly three to one. In Massachusetts, which has seen a 22 percent increase in patients in the last year, medical marijuana dispensaries may now operate as for-profit corporations. And in the pharmaceutical industry, career opportunities in cannabis-based drug development are constantly on the rise. 

7.) Cannabis Education

Most people looking to get into the industry, of course, start by educating themselves. California, whose universities have talked about offering cannabis-related college courses, is currently leading the way in cannabis education. But Massachusetts isn’t far behind. Both online and offline colleges like Massachusetts Cannabis College and the Northeastern Institute of Cannabis are training and certifying growing numbers of cannabis professionals. Meanwhile, consumer education helps to dispel the controversies that prevent the industry from thriving.

We’ve come a long way: cannabis investment is now generating nine- and ten-figure deals. And based on last year’s sales performance, research advances, a greater variety of products, and the growing normalization of cannabis use, experts believe investors will take the industry more seriously in 2018 and beyond. Regulators might be moving slowly – but for the rest of us, that means more time to nail down the right opportunities.

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