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16 Marijuana 4/20 Facts That Show How Far the Cannabis Movement Has Come

Sean Williams, The Motley Fool

For most of my life, marijuana has been considered a taboo topic that wasn't discussed openly and was swept under the rug by federal, state, and local officials. It was understood that a black market existed, but the "war on drugs" was always in force, with marijuana placed side by side with heroin and cocaine as scourges of society.

But as we near 4/20, a date of significance within the cannabis community that's celebrated by smoking or consuming marijuana, what's crystal clear is that this is no longer a taboo topic or an illicit industry. In a relatively short amount of time, the pot industry and the cannabis movement have come an incredibly long way. Here are 16 facts that unequivocally show that cannabis is now a mainstream topic and is here to stay.

A bearded man holding a lit cannabis joint by his fingertips in front of his face.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. More than 40 countries have given medical cannabis the green light

Believe it or not, more than 40 countries around the world have legalized medical marijuana in some capacity. You might know about most European countries doing so, but it might be surprising to learn that Thailand, a country known for some of the harshest penalties in the world on drug users, gave the green light to medical weed a few months ago. South Korea, another very strict country with regard to handling drug offenses, became the first East Asian country to legalize medical pot in November.

2. It's been legalized for adult use in two countries

In addition, two countries -- Uruguay and Canada -- have legalized recreational marijuana. Canada's passage of the Cannabis Act last year allowed it to become the first industrialized country in the world to allow people to legally consume pot. By 2022, Wall Street analysts forecast that Canada could be generating as much as $6 billion in full-year sales.

3. 33 U.S. states have given the OK in some capacity, with 10 approving recreational pot

Although marijuana remains an illicit substance at the federal level, it hasn't stopped 33 states from legalizing the drug for medical purposes. Even traditionally conservative states such as Utah have recently OK'd medical marijuana for select ailments. There are also 10 states that allow for adult-use consumption.

A gavel next to a small handful of dried cannabis buds.

Image source: Getty Images.

4. Legalization has occurred through the legislative process

To build on the previous point, we're also seeing pot legalization occur entirely at the legislative level. Not every state has the initiative and referendum process whereby signatures are gathered to get a measure on a ballot for the public to vote on. In certain states such as Vermont, the state's legislature has been responsible for legalizing cannabis.

5. Two-thirds of Americans now favor legalization

People like weed! It was once a drug that only 25% of the population wanted to see legalized in Gallup's 1995 national poll, but the October 2018 survey showed that an all-time record 66% of respondents now favor legalizing marijuana in the United States. In all major surveys other than Gallup, the results are relatively consistent, with a majority of respondents favoring legalization.

6. The two groups most opposed to weed have changed their tune

Historically, Republicans and senior citizens have had notably more negative views of cannabis than other political parties and younger Americans. But in the October Gallup survey, we saw seniors and Republicans demonstrate favorability toward legalization for the first time in history. Their support might be the secret ingredient needed to actually amend federal cannabis laws in the United States.

A vial of Epidiolex next to its packaging and two droppers.

Image source: GW Pharmaceuticals.

7. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a cannabis-derived drug

Federal and state governments aren't the only one's getting in on the action. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also legalized its very first cannabis-derived drug in June 2018 from GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: GWPH). GW Pharmaceuticals' Epidiolex, a cannabidiol (CBD)-based medicine, reduced seizure frequency from baseline by roughly 30% to 40% in two rare types of childhood-onset epilepsy. GW Pharmaceuticals launched this trendsetting therapy in early November at a list price of $32,500 a year, and it's currently the only FDA-approved treatment for Dravet syndrome.

8. There's now separation between hemp and cannabis

We also saw the U.S. government finally differentiate between hemp plants and cannabis plants, at least on paper. The passage of the Farm Bill in December 2018 legalized hemp production and processing, and it firmly differentiated between hemp and cannabis on the controlled-substances list. The Farm Bill becoming law is particularly important since hemp plants tend to be rich in CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid best known for its perceived medical benefits.

9. Pot stocks are being listed side by side with time-tested businesses

Marijuana stocks have long been listed on the over-the-counter (OTC) exchange, but some of the most influential ones have moved to the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq. This includes the largest pot stock in the world by market cap, Canopy Growth (NYSE: CGC), as well as Aurora Cannabis (NYSE: ACB), the projected leader in peak annual pot production in Canada. Both Canopy and Aurora moved to the NYSE from the OTC exchange in 2018, and they're now listed side by side with time-tested businesses that have, in some cases, been around for more than a century.

The facade of the New York Stock Exchange draped in a large American flag, with the Wall St street sign in the foreground.

Image source: Getty Images.

10. Marijuana stocks are going the initial public offering route on major U.S. exchanges

On top of just uplistng from the OTC exchange, which seven pot stocks have done since February 2018, a small handful of weed stocks have gone the initial public offering (IPO) route on reputable U.S. exchanges. None has had more success than Tilray (NASDAQ: TLRY), which raised gross proceeds of $153 million by listing 9 million shares at $17 in July when it IPO'd on the Nasdaq. Two months later, Tilray saw its stock run (briefly) to $300 before coming back to Earth.

11. Canadian marijuana stocks have gained access to traditional banking services

To our north, the legalization of recreational marijuana has allowed banks the ability to offer basic banking services to marijuana stocks, which have long been reliant on dilutive bought-deal offerings that include common stock sales, convertible debentures, stock options, and/or warrant offerings. Traditional loans and lines of credit provide a non-dilutive means for pot stocks to access capital. In other words, shareholders rejoice!

12. Canada may produce up to 4 million kilos of weed annually

Just how much marijuana could Canada produce? The top 11 producers, which include Aurora Cannabis's 780,000 kilos at its annual peak, Canopy Growth's up to 550,000 kilos, and Tilray's more than 100,000 kilos, should come very close to 3 million kilos by themselves. If you tack on a number of mid-tier, smaller, and non-public growers, then 4 million kilos a year, in aggregate, becomes very plausible by perhaps 2022 or 2023.

A finger with pink nail polish holding cannabis leaves in front of a globe of the Earth.

Image source: Getty Images.

13. Worldwide sales are expected to increase 38% in 2019

Though the legal cannabis industry is still relatively nascent, it nevertheless produced $12.2 billion in worldwide sales in 2018, according to a report issued by Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics. In 2019, global sales are expected to jump another 38%, to $16.9 billion, as both Canada and California work through near-term supply-chain issues and worldwide legalizations continue.

14. Global sales could one day hit $130 billion

How big could the marijuana industry eventually grow? According to analysts at Jefferies, who have opined that annual pot sales would hit $50 billion by 2029, the long-term (no specific date was offered by the investment bank) potential for the global pot industry is $130 billion in sales. This would equal almost twice as much annually as the global soda industry.

15. CBD sales could achieve a 147% CAGR through 2022

Arguably, no trend within the cannabis movement is more popular than the rising tide associated with CBD. Since CBD doesn't get users high and is perceived to have numerous medical benefits (one of which was confirmed by the FDA), it acts as a lure to consumers who've never tried a cannabis product before or who simply don't want to get high. According to an aggressive estimate from the Brightfield Group, worldwide CBD sales could grow at a compound annual rate of 147% through 2022, to $22 billion.

16. Pot sales rose 111% on 4/20 in 2018

Finally, legal cannabis sales soared in the U.S. last year on 4/20 and they're liable to do so again in 2019 -- especially with this day of celebration falling on a Saturday. In 2018, legal weed sales rose 111% from the previous year, to $26.6 million, with Colorado, the very first state to begin selling adult-use pot, leading the pack with $9.1 million in total 4/20 sales. California only came in third last year, with $6.9 million in sales, but should be primed for the green rush to take effect tomorrow. 

Long story short, the marijuana industry has come a long way in a short period of time but still has much more to accomplish.

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Sean Williams has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Nasdaq. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.