As a follow up to my last article for the Cannabiz Media Blog about marijuana industry trends and predictions for 2018, I thought it’s a good time to take a look back at the marijuana industry in 2017. The year began with excitement following the November 2016 vote that increased the number of states allowing recreational and medical marijuana. However, worries loomed over how the Trump administration would respond to the industry’s growth.

Here on the Cannabiz Media Blog, several topics kept popping up again and again throughout the year. In hindsight, those topics tell a great deal of the marijuana industry’s story over the past 12 months. Let’s take a closer look.

Marijuana and Big Business

The year 2017 will go down in history as one where the value of marijuana licenses skyrocketed. As a result, big businesses came calling – repeatedly – with licensed marijuana businesses selling for significantly more than they could have just one year earlier.

Despite all of this growth, many businesses continued to stigmatize the marijuana industry. Many banks, payment processors, crowdfunding platforms, email marketing providers, and event and ticket sales applications continued to refuse to work with businesses in the marijuana industry.

Between the influx of large companies into the industry and the process of stacking licenses in some states, cannabis monopolies and oligopolies continued to emerge. Furthermore, many states have marijuana laws in place that favor big businesses. Together, these factors prompted people to wonder if big marijuana is inevitable.

Marijuana and Intellectual Property

A significant element of a marijuana business’ asset portfolio is its intellectual property. Having intellectual property with intrinsic value instantly increases the value of a marijuana license among investors and the aforementioned big businesses that are rapidly buying up smaller industry players. In 2017, marijuana businesses started to truly understand how important their patents and trademarks are.

While marijuana marks cannot be licensed federally or receive federal trademark protection today, it’s likely those rules will change in the future. Regardless, marijuana businesses need to take steps to protect their marks. To that end, I shared a 5-part trademark strategy in August that can be implemented immediately in order to increase the value of a marijuana license.

Marijuana Marketing

One of the biggest challenges for marijuana-related businesses is marketing their products and services in order to attract customers and make sales. The problem is that most state and federal marketing and advertising laws are not friendly to marijuana businesses.

In fact, nearly every marketing tactic – from advertising and direct mail to email marketing and social media marketing – is either extremely challenging for marijuana-related businesses or not allowed at all. In other words, marijuana businesses had to start getting creative in 2017 of they wanted to grow. For example, I shared some ways to advertise a marijuana business without getting into trouble in September.

Since marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, even permission-based email marketing (where the business has gotten permission from recipients to send commercial messages to them) is not allowed based on many email marketing platforms’ terms of use. Fortunately, Cannabiz Media launched an email marketing tool in 2017, which sends tens of thousands of email messages from marijuana businesses every month!

Marijuana Licenses, Fees, Laws, and Procedures

Despite the fact that the marijuana industry grew significantly in 2017, it was still an industry filled with questions. For example, in July, I asked if local marijuana license fees are extortionate, and in October, I asked if lotteries or competitions are the best way to grant marijuana licenses.

In June, Cannabiz Media’s Joe Sciabica weighed the effects of ballot initiatives versus legislation on the marijuana market, and in July, I addressed the question of whether the marijuana industry is better with or without transparency.

What’s Ahead for the Marijuana Industry in 2018?

Overall, 2017 was an eventful year in the marijuana industry, and 2018 is poised to be even more interesting. Be sure to read the 2018 marijuana industry trends and predictions, and take some time to compare them to what was happening in 2016 and early 2017.

One thing is certain, it’s an exciting time to be in the marijuana industry. Would you agree? Leave a comment and share your thoughts about 2017 and your predictions for 2018.

Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.