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These Are the Biggest Opportunities and Roadblocks for the Cannabis Industry

By Olivia Zitkus - Apr 5, 2021 at 6:10AM

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Demand for cannabis is soaring, and new states are taking notice. But banking and capital access issues stand in the way of growth.

As more states have worked to legalize recreational and medical cannabis in 2020 and 2021 -- pot has found its spot in the investing limelight. The Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences ETF (HMLSF -4.39%) is up over 120% over the past 12 months, handily outpacing the S&P 500 and its gains of about 60%. On March 25, New York voted to legalize recreational cannabis and became the second largest state by population (after California) to permit adult use of the drug.

But amid the excitement, it's also become clear that the cannabis industry has a long way to go to reach its full potential. Dr. Chanda Macias, a medical cannabis advocate, research, and dispensary owner joined Olivia Zitkus and Corinne Cardina on a March 19 episode of Fool Live to talk about the opportunities and roadblocks ahead for the industry and its investors.  

Corinne Cardina: Let's tell our audience a little bit more about the medical marijuana landscape. What would you say are some of the biggest opportunities and the biggest barriers to growth in this space?

Dr. Chanda Macias: That's very interesting. Corinne, based upon New Frontier Data, in 2025, the Cannabis industry is going to be a $41.5 billion industry. When you asked that question, my first response would be, this is a call to action for those that want to enter in the industry as a small business. If you're interested in working in the cannabis space, right now, growth in the job market is up 161%. I think it's a great opportunity to also think about investments as well. Those are three areas where people can actually participate today.

Cardina: That's amazing. Oh, gosh. The dogs have started. Oh, no. Someone must be walking by. Sorry about that, y'all. Let's talk about barriers to growth. Of course, you're focused on the policy side with your involvement with the National Cannabis Roundtable. We've seen lots of legislation, either state-by-state. Some legislation has made a little bit of momentum federally and then maybe not so much thinking about banking, deregulation. What are some of the policies that you think, if we can tackle these reforms, would really pave the way for the medical marijuana market to take off?

Macias: Well, what's very interesting is that we're still in prohibition federally. With that, we need to take our steps and the first step with the National Cannabis Roundtable is having a strong voice for decriminalization. We have to make sure patients are protected. In other words, what we've seen, Corinne, in the past is that a patient, when they have this cannabis or possessed it, they could have actually went to prison for it. We saw that in the African American community pretty rampantly. But now, it's time for us to protect our patients and give them legal access to that. The first thing is to decriminalizing it so patients don't have to worry that in fact, it is a criminal charge if they possess it. The states have really taken a proactive approach with protecting patients, which I adore. Now, federally, we need to lead the way. But also with that, I think about banking issues. What a lot of people don't know is that we can't use traditional banks in this space because it's still federally illegal. So for us, we're a cash-only business, which means that someone like me has to carry hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay my taxes, which is just unbelievable at this day and age with the sophistication of the United States. It's time for us to change some of these thoughts like safe banking. Now the bill was reintroduced yesterday, matter of fact, and what the bill will actually do for us or just on the common knowledge is that it will allow patients to pay for medications with their debit cards or their credit cards. It will allow me as a small business or, I should say, multiple businesses in this sector to be able to actually apply for traditional loans. If you think about my profile as an African American woman, there's less than 4% of African Americans that are in ownership in cannabis today. One of those limitations, in fact, is because we don't have access to capital. But with the SAFE Banking Act, we'll be able to apply for loans and go to traditional banking means. This is so important for our narrative, to move SAFE Banking to the forefront. Then after that, we definitely have so many different policies. We think about social justice reform and also the 280e taxation. So there are more things we can talk about. But yeah, there's a lot of steps to get to legalization, in other words.

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