Last month, I traveled to Pueblo, Colorado to present at the inaugural Institute of Cannabis Research Conference at Colorado State University-Pueblo. This new event was hosted by the recently launched research institute, which is funded by cannabis excise tax revenue brought in under Colorado’s Amendment 64.
Researchers, scholars, activists, and industry participants from over half the states, almost a dozen countries, and a variety of disciplines attended to discuss a number of topics relating to cannabis. Many sessions and panels had a scientific focus, delving into recent studies on Cannabidiol (CBD) and other cannabinoid compounds and medical issues. Other sessions were geared toward discussions of legal, regulatory, geographic, and economic issues.
Environmental topics, such as water availability, energy use, employee health, agricultural concerns, and pesticides were discussed; as well as economic affects of legalization, including cannabis tourism, Colorado’s “green rush,” and the surge in property values after Amendment 64 ushered in the era of adult use legalization.
With many states’ medical and adult use cannabis regulations and markets maturing and new states coming online, there were a few unique trends that came up across the interdisciplinary topics presented. Here are a few:
Industry Size and Conflicting Scales
Researchers highlighted a leading issue in this rapidly expanding industry—size. While some companies decide to increase their plant count, number of stores, and operational structure, others choose to keep it small. These discussions touched on supply chain issues and the “quality versus quantity” debate.
Supply chain management researchers from Colorado State University and Portland State University identified two emergent models for cannabis products: a commodity model and a craft model. The commodity model is marked by lower priced products, low-skilled labor with potential “stoner culture” presence, and vertical integration bringing cheaper product directly to the consumer. At the same time, the craft model features curated product and specialized offerings, professionally trained retail staff (“budtenders”), an emphasis on customer loyalty and education, and vertical integration for certified product—as in Clean Green, organic-style certification.
Looking forward, keep an eye out for the rise of multi-license, multi-activity companies that reflect the commodity model, while single-license companies open up in some areas, similar to craft breweries or small wine producers.
Medical and Adult Use Merging
As states roll out adult use legalization licensing rules, the fate of the existing medical cannabis landscape is left up in the air. A big takeaway I’ve been interested in since this conference is the merge of medical dispensaries and adult use (“recreational”) retailers. Presentations reflected ongoing research, mainly in Oregon and California.
Patient access and care, prices, tax rates and revenues, and laboratory testing requirements are just a handful of the many policy areas which will require review and reconciliation as cannabis markets expand from a limited patient count to the much wider adult population.
Cannabis Researchers Deliver Plenary and Keynote Speeches
International scientific leaders in cannabis research delivered the opening, keynote, and closing presentations. Videos of these sessions were made available online. Here are the links to each:
- “How and Why Marijuana Research is Biased toward Negative Effect,” by Dr. Carl Hart, Chair, Department of Psychology, Columbia University
- The inaugural Mechoulam Lecture: “The Endocannabinoid System: A Look Back and Ahead,” by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, Professor, Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the Institute of Drug Research, Hebrew University
- “Cannabis and the Endocannabinoid System: Therapeutic Opportunities,” by Alexandros Makriyannis, Chair in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology and Director of the Center for Drug Discovery, Northeastern University