Ricardo Baca’s 2022 Cannabis Industry Trends Forecast

Editor’s Note: What lies ahead for cannabis? It’s a question many in the industry are asking as we hit the ground running in Q1. From old-school matters like mergers and acquisitions to emerging cannabis industry trends like delivery models that took off during the pandemic and are here to stay, there’s a lot to assess in predicting which cannabis products and services will be pivotal to business success or become a major problem.

Whether you’re keeping an eye on efforts by prohibitionists to limit THC potency in products or how the tech industry treats cannabis on digital platforms, or you’re just curious where the industry is going to go next, Grasslands founder and CEO Ricardo Baca (who was just named ADCANN’s Marketer of the Year!) has a few thoughts on “futurecasting” cannabis in 2022.

The Colorado Model Goes National

Colorado first led the global charge on determining what a regulated cannabis market looks like, and we now see iterations of the “Colorado Model” implemented throughout the world—and I’m so fortunate to have had a front-row seat to Colorado’s historic legalization rollout since my days as Editor-in-Chief for The Denver Post’s cannabis coverage.

Since adult-use sales started in 2014, Colorado cannabis has gone on to show immense profitability, corporate responsibility and worldwide leadership. The Centennial state has been projected to become the third most profitable cannabis market in the US by the end of 2022. And as we started the year, there were 17 other states and two U.S. territories that have followed in Colorado’s footsteps to adult-use legalization. 

This year, Colorado and its veteran operators will become one of the hottest markets for cannabis M&A activity in the country. Sure, out-of-state operators like Columbia Care, Curaleaf, PharmaCann and Eaze made sizable strategic moves into the Centennial State in 2021—but that will not hold a candle to what we’re about to witness in the world’s most experienced legal cannabis market in 2022.

Door-to-Door Weed Delivery

In 2022, we will see cannabis delivery in Colorado and beyond become more normalized, increasingly widespread and lucrative. With this shift, Colorado’s real-life experience will help squash the misinformation on cannabis delivery that has for years been spread by NIMBY regulators and anti-legalization law enforcement. 

Cannabis delivery is not the dangerous bogeyman they’ve made it out to be, and I’m confident this highly regulated expansion of Colorado cannabis will be quietly successful—and like nearly every other aspect of Colorado’s first-of-its-kind cannabis industry, this real-life experience will be a powerful counterargument to fear-mongering prohibitionists.

The THC Potency Problem

2022 is the year the American cannabis industry will need to take prohibitionists’ THC potency campaigns as the serious threat they are. Not only are anti-legalization forces aiming to reduce patient access to clean, tested and proven plant medicine, they’re also attempting to cripple a healthy (and immensely regulated) business environment that is already more restrictive than most other industries. 

The prohibitionists’ latest tactic of trying to implement THC-potency caps, which are becoming increasingly common from Colorado to Vermont, must be stopped—and regulators must insist on legitimate scientific data (and not fear-mongering misinformation) to guide any potential reforms ahead. When alcohol kills more than 70,000 Americans a year and the CDC tells us cannabis has never been responsible for even one death, we need to align our business environments with the reality of the substance in question.

Social Equity, Diversity and Cannabis

While the cannabis industry has made some progress on social equity and DEI issues, we are far from where we need to be. More cannabis professionals need to understand, acknowledge and act on the history of cannabis and the war on drugs that heavily swayed public opinion and promoted racist ideologies. And I hope 2022 will be the year more cannabis executives prioritize putting this knowledge and advocacy into more widespread action. 

It’s not enough to establish cannabis brands and sell products; the cannabis industry (of all industries) needs to be a more socially conscious space. Making sure that our teams, our boards, our partnerships, our vendors and our marketing campaigns are more equitable is no longer optional. Brands must adapt or risk falling to the wayside.

New York and New Jersey Adopt an Empire State of Mind

2022 will be the all-important wind-up year for two major U.S. markets that are on track to enter the cannabis sphere: New York and New Jersey. These two East Coast giants will likely open for adult-use sales in 2023, and so 2022 is an essential timeline for ensuring the success of these lynchpin markets across the board—from social equity to responsible and reasonable business regulations. 

Like so many others before them, NY and NJ will surely adopt some iteration of Colorado’s first-of-its-kind regulatory model. But it’s also their responsibility to move the conversation forward—and to learn from mistakes and missteps in Colorado, Massachusetts, California, Illinois and others, and create the more equitable and responsible cannabis industry of the future.

Big Tech Warms Up to Cannabis

Could 2022 be the year that social media and tech giants start to play nice with cannabis brands? The wheel is already starting to turn. 

Nebulous terms of use are a broken model that is no longer sustainable for this fast-growing sector, regardless of its continued unjust federal illegality. As we see other tech platforms—including Apple’s App Store, Uber and Google—become more 420-friendly, we will see the Metas of the world start to bend to the overwhelming percentage of the American adult population that believes cannabis should be legal—and therefore reasonably engaged with by Zuck and his ilk.

A More Accessible Cannabis Industry

The cannabis industry is entering a more mature stage in its development. In 2022, cannabis marketers will focus on making cannabis branding and products more accessible in every way––from ADA-compliant websites to Braille lettering on product labels to child-resistant packaging that can be opened by adults with disabilities and more. State-legal cannabis has to be ready for the federal legalization ahead, and brands not planning for that inevitability will be the brands that lose out.

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