That moment when water heating on a stove gets hot enough to transform from still into roiling is called the tipping point. Malcom Gladwell, who wrote The Tipping Point, chooses a unique word to describe the phenomena of widespread change that leads to a tipping point. He calls them “epidemics” because ideas, products and behaviors “spread just like viruses do.”
Cannabis acceptance is on the verge of one of these epidemics, or a pandemic, actually, as all indications are that the trend toward legalization is a global one. But what will be the tipping point that leads to that moment of widespread acceptance here in the United States?
Here are three that seem likely:
Voters push the number of legal states beyond electoral uncertainty
So far, seven states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of cannabis, 22 other states have legalized medical marijuana or decriminalized cannabis use and possession in some fashion, and five more are weighing ballot measures in 2018. Two important things to note: California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, but almost half of states that have legalized or decriminalized cannabis — including D.C. and all the states that went rec — did so in just the last five years (since 2012); and this momentum is almost exclusively voter-driven. At some point openly defying both the Tenth Amendment and the will of the people becomes the least attractive political option for all parties and candidates, and that moment would be a tipping point.
Big business overtly moves into the cannabis market
Big business is still lurking around the edges of the legal cannabis market, but some corporations have their toes in the water. With a reported $250 million investment, the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company formed a subsidiary called the Hawthorne Gardening Company in 2014 expressly to enter the cannabis market. Through acquisition, Hawthorne is now parent company to popular cannabis brands such as General Hydroponics, Vermicrop Organics and Gavita.
Though online stores ranging from Amazon to Walmart sell commercial and consumer cannabis products, and rumors of major brewery brands looking to acquire growers are surfacing in several states, big business is still largely reluctant to run afoul of federal law and embrace the legal cannabis market. Ultimately the business opportunity will become too great to ignore, and big businesses will jump in, probably with both feet. When they do, they have the clout to change the politics, and that moment would also be a tipping point.
States grow dependent on cannabis tax revenue
Analyst firm Arcview Market Research recently forecasted that the legal cannabis market will reach $22.6 billion by 2021, a year some industry experts are predicting California will collect cannabis-related taxes approaching $1 billion. In its 2017 The Cannabis Industry Annual Report, New Frontier Data estimates tax revenues from cannabis will top $2.3 billion by 2020. That’s billions of dollars in state tax revenue coming during a time when the federal government is becoming increasingly stingy with states. Once state governors and legislatures recognize that taxes raised from the legal cannabis market are both significant and reliable, dependency on this revenue will become permanent. And when that happens, that would be a tipping point.
Not that the tipping point has to be that obvious. The moment I recognized the mobile industry had reached its tipping point occurred while I was working for a Wi-Fi company at a time when there were still relatively few public hotspots and getting Wi-Fi on your laptop meant adding an accessory. We were all counting on a tipping point happening soon, and then one day a new TV commercial for mortgage refinancing started airing, featuring two friends sitting inside a coffee shop, comparing home loans on a laptop. In the commercial the network connectivity was simply assumed; wireless had arrived into the public consciousness.
Of course, cannabis has already permeated throughout the public consciousness, but its widespread, out-of-the-closet acceptance still has a way to go. What will be the sign of acceptance that indicates the cannabis tipping point has been reached? Be on the lookout; all indications are we should be seeing it sometime soon.