Cannabis to be as big as tobacco by 2029: Ackrell

Ronny Kerr · March 2, 2016 · Short URL:

Investment bank predicts marijuana to be a $100 billion market in a little over a decade

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[UPDATED Wed Mar 9 at 9:07 AM PT to reflect nuance of marijuana law in Virginia.]

Whether you’re a marijuana smoker or not, there's one thing that isn't hazy: we’re on the cusp of a “green gold rush.”

Ackrell Capital, a San Francisco-based investment bank focused on middle-market and emerging growth companies, forecasts that the total U.S. cannabis consumer market (including pharmaceuticals) could top $100 billion by 2029, according to its newly released U.S. Cannabis Investment Report 2016.

For comparison, the RAND Corporation estimated the illegal U.S. market for cannabis to be about $40 billion in 2010, thanks to about 20 million paying customers. The tobacco industry rakes in $100 billion annually from approximately 45 million people. Meanwhile, Ackrell pins the emerging market for legalized recreational and medicinal marijuana at just $4.4 billion in 2015.

Even though cannabis is still illegal under federal law, 23 states have legalized the substance for medicinal use and, of those, four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) have legalized it for recreational use. Furthermore, Ackrell identifies 16 states that have approved some cannabis-based products in limited circumstances in addition to three states (Nebraska, Ohio, and Virginia*) that have decriminalized it, meaning law enforcement ignores small violations. Only eight states today still ban cannabis in every circumstance.

In turn, Ackrell believes “it is a question of when—not if—the federal prohibition on cannabis will end.” The firm sees the widening field of cannabis approval among the states as a trend that will ultimately lead toward the federal government overturning its restriction on the drug. In fact, Ackrell even puts a projected date on their prediction: 2020.

As a result of the state policies outlined above and (likely) the widely held consensus that federal law will eventually follow, an entire industry has flourished to serve the emerging industry. From cultivators and dispensaries to lab and production equipment suppliers, e-commerce services, and digital media properties, Ackrell calls this booming industry the “Green Field.”

Here’s a good summary of Ackrell’s investment outlook for cannabis, from the report:

“We believe that we are at the very early stages of a powerful secular growth cycle for cannabis-based solutions and companies. Within 5 to 10 years, we believe that cannabis use will become mainstream, and a host of mature companies will be dominating the market.


"As the cannabis industry continues to evolve, market opportunities for well-managed, well-resourced and well-positioned companies should be significant. The greatest value will be created by those companies able to drive affordably the awareness and adoption of their solutions, take advantage of economies of scale and leverage technology to optimize their operations."

The one area that could see the biggest boost from cannabis legalization is undoubtedly the pharmaceuticals industry. Ackrell says medicinal marijuana has been shown to treat over 40 medical conditions, including arthritis, cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, glaucoma, and HIV/AIDS. Though the federal ban has restricted how much research could be performed on the drug’s benefits and side effects, the overall outlook looks good.

In addition to the overarching study, Ackrell also shared two supplemental reports. One lists the top 100 private cannabis companies in 2016, representing mainly U.S. companies with a "strong reputation or position" in the cannabis market with an "attractive" line of business. The other is the broader industry landscape representing the "Green Field" (above).

All three reports are publicly available through Ackrell's website.

[UPDATE from Wed Mar 9 at 9:07 AM PT]

*After publishing this article, we received a note from Jenn Michelle Pedini (Deputy Director, VirginiaNORML) clarifying state law governing marijuana in Virginia:

"Despite our repeated efforts, cannabis remains absolutely criminalized in Virginia, with some of the stiffest penalties in the nation. The only protection currently offered is to patients and caregivers of intractable epilepsy, who may now present a certificate 10 days prior to trial as an affirmative defense for the possession of CBD (>15%) THCA (<5%) oil. The law still allows for arrest and in no way legalizes, decriminalizes or depenalizes possession of any sort."

When I went back to Ackrell to see if they can explain the discrepancy between their report listing Virginia as decriminalized and VirginiaNORML's information above, I received the following response from Mike Ackrell, the firm's founder and managing partner:

"I checked with my team and we don’t disagree with the NORML spokesperson. It really is just a matter of how we define things.

"My team actually thought about listing Virginia as a 'Limited Use' state, but opted to classify them as 'Decriminalized' instead, because of the very limited use exception. When we were classifying states, we were using the Decriminalized designation as more restrictive than the Limited Use designation.

"A number of other websites that track these issues also classify Virginia as Decriminalized – again, I think it really is just a matter of definition."

In other words, take heed: law enforcement in Virginia will not ignore small marijuana violations.

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