With COVID-19 having halted huge portions of the economy worldwide, there are few industries that haven’t been impacted. However, food delivery services, home entertainment, online healthcare, online exercise programmes, 3D printing and digital communications are seeing some major boosts to their businesses, as people seek ways to keep healthy and entertain themselves at home. Medical cannabis, which has been deemed an essential provision for patients, has also seen people stock up. Various states’ loosening of telemedicine restrictions has also seen more people being able to get their medical marijuana certificates and cards online.
A Newfound Acceptance of the Cannabis Industry?
There is much talk that, with medical cannabis now starting to be deemed essential, a post-COVID-19 world will see greater acceptance and a push towards full federal legalization. Moreover, it may be one of the few industries that could survive the pandemic intact in some form, and states US-wide will be seeking a way of gathering tax revenues. Legalized cannabis may be one of the few ways they can do so.
Yet, there are still some issues. Maintaining supply lines and ensuring that distributors can meet demand will be a concern, especially in states that require imports. Getting a hold of a doctor to get certification can also become more difficult as they are busy fighting the pandemic (although we here at Leafwell can make this possible via online appointments). Non-medical sales may fall to some extent after the bulk-buying stops. As time goes on, a lack of employment will likely reduce people’s ability to buy cannabis. Others may start moving more and more towards self-sufficiency and start growing more of their own where it is legal to do so.
The most likely outcome of all of this is that bigger, multi-state chains will consolidate wherever it is legally possible and buy out smaller dispensaries who cannot necessarily provide delivery services or afford to operate in an environment where sales start to slow down. Different types of products may also likely be in demand, as people move away from smokables and vapables in order to protect their lungs, and medical and health & wellness start to become more important markets.
Past critics may begin to see the importance of medical cannabis for seriously sick patients, and their stance may soften and see greater acceptance of the industry. This stance is likely to be driven by both economic concerns and a desire to seek out new medical treatments.
Science & Research
As far as science and research goes, the life sciences may see a huge increase in public funding in the future. Research into cannabis, the endocannabinoid system (ECS), and its immunomodulatory and antibiotic effects may well form a part of this funding. We could even see full-legalization, not just in the US but in several countries around the world looking for new industries and tax revenues to rebuild with. This would certainly make researching cannabis easier.
There is little doubt that the world will be facing a long-term recession once COVID-19 is under control. Recovery will take some time, and countries will likely want to fund and protect critical industries for future disasters. Longer-term thinking may become the norm, and countries will likely be preparing for another potential wave of COVID-19. Some also expect to see a world that is not as globalized as it once was, as travel restrictions reduce movement and countries want to become less reliant on supplies from other countries.
The “New Normal”
What long-term changes do we see happening over the next few years? After all, the cannabis industry is impacted by other industries as well. Here are a few services we see sticking and even expanding:
- Telemedicine – more and more people are seeing the advantages of telehealth. This is especially the case with vulnerable patients who need to isolate and social distance to a greater degree, and those who live in remote locations. As telehealth technology improves, we expect diagnostics & online medical testing will improve as well.
- Delivery services and curbside pick-up – many high street shops are already shutting down as people start shopping online. COVID-19 has just exacerbated this trend.
- Self-sufficiency – expect people to start thinking about growing their own fruit and vegetables (and cannabis!), standby generators & renewable energy sources and the like so they are not as reliant on external providers. Of course, growing your own things requires time, patience, equipment, knowledge and space. Living cooped up in cramped apartments in city areas may mean people start to see the importance of outdoor spaces. Having a garden or another outdoor space will become more sought-after than ever.
- Working from home (telecommuting) – this was already increasing steadily over the last several years, as telecommunications and computing power allows workers to work an increasing number of jobs from home.
- Restaurants, bars, cinemas and plenty of other food & entertainment services that rely on social gatherings are likely to be affected in the long-term. However, such services will also likely see a boom when restrictions are lifted. The question is, will this boom be long-term, or will old habits die hard? Either way, for many people, at-home entertainment will be a more permanent feature.
- Greater emphasis on online and distance learning for people of all ages, including an increase in home-schooling.
- Air pollution – it may be an unusual thing to think about, but many cities have seen drastic reductions in emissions. Both indoor and outdoor air pollution have been implicated in millions of premature deaths worldwide. Many people are finding it easier to breathe in cities across the world that have the worst air quality. If we can retain this aspect without further damage to the economy, we could improve the health of millions.
- The development of a more sustainable economy? Will countries start to plan for further pandemics and other disasters in the future? Will there be a significant reassessment in what sorts of jobs are deemed important, which sees key workers treated & compensated appropriately? Maybe the economy of the future will be more focused on the health and wellbeing of a state’s citizens, alongside a more efficient use of resources.
Some posit another interesting theory: the pandemic will change nothing at all, and at most will just speed up changes that are already happening. The increases in remote working and online shopping are things that are already in motion. There are huge numbers of subjects that can be learnt at home, from literature and language to programming and pure mathematics. E-learning will certainly be a part of the “new normal”. Whilst people may regress to the mean, it is likely that this pandemic will drastically change the behavior of people for a number of years.
As for some of the things that may affect the cannabis industry more directly:
- Move forward towards full legalization across all states, and perhaps federally.
- Greater social acceptance of cannabis.
- Greater focus into cannabinoid research and the medical applications of cannabis – its anti-inflammatory and immunomudulatory effects are of great interest.
- Telemedicine and curbside pickups may be here to stay!
- Whether or not there will be more help given towards those who have been most impacted by the fact that cannabis was/is illegal remains to be seen. Minority communities have been hit hard by both COVID-19 and imprisonment related to cannabis, and many of the original breeders of the 60s/70s still face persecution. This needs to change.
A long-term lockdown (and it is likely that the lockdown will be in place until significant testing and a vaccination program are in place) of a year or longer will most certainly have a long-lasting impact, psychologicaly, socially and economically. Certainly, there will be technologies developed that will make social distancing easier to maintain and some types of work much easier. The idea that there won’t be significant change – for a generation of people at least – looks to be a stretch. After all, past wars, pestilences and famines have lead to significant changes, and there’s no reason to believe that this one won’t be the same.
The fact that the world has essentially seen two great economic depressions within a short span of time will certainly be enough to cause significant changes in consumer behavior.
There is little doubt that “business as usual” will not return any time soon, at least for several years yet. What people consider important will change significantly, and it would not be surprising to see people moving towards life’s simpler pleasures. Food, healthcare and in-home entertainment, alongside remote working, will likely become the norm for a few years. Cannabis seems to suit such a world very well indeed.