Could COVID-19 Catalyze Marijuana Legalization in the U.S.?

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc across the world this year. After taking a major hit in March, the S&P 500 has managed to claw its way back into positive percentage growth for the year, now up just 1.66% as of Oct. 30. But in some ways, the global public health crisis seems to have spared the marijuana industry. Marijuana sales soared amid the pandemic both in Canada and the U.S.

Although Canada has struggled with regulatory hold-ups and black market sales, those issues didn’t stop sales from breaking records this year. The second quarter marked the first time that legal cannabis sales in the country surpassed illegal sales. Household spending on licit cannabis (recreational and medical) rang in at $803 million, while illicit spending came to $784 million.

Sales numbers are even better in the U.S., where there is a limited legal market for marijuana. Illinois recorded a whopping $431 million in total sales since recreational legalization took effect on Jan. 1. Combined (medical and recreational) sales in the state touched $100 million in September alone. Currently, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis, while recreational cannabis use is legal in 11 states and the nation’s capital. Federal law still classifies the substance as a Schedule 1 drug, but many individual states’ efforts reflect broader public support for decriminalization and legalization. Hopes are high that the drastic surge in U.S. sales during the pandemic could help push lawmakers to legalize marijuana.

A bud of dried marijuana on a judge's gavel, with American flags in the background.

Image source: Getty Images.

Have other countries legalized marijuana during the pandemic?

While some Americans eagerly wait for nationwide legal cannabis, many other countries have stepped up this year and elected to “go green.” Amid the pandemic, Mexico’s high court allowed an extension of a deadline for legislators to review and enact marijuana policy changes. One Mexican Senator discussed how marijuana legalization could bring in “tax revenue to offset economic losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.” The country’s senate is expected to vote on a bill to legalize marijuana by the end of this month.

Distressed by the pandemic, Lebanon became the first Arab country to legalize medical cannabis on April 21. Crippled by financial crises amid the pandemic, the Lebanese government hopes that medical marijuana will bring in new revenues and stimulate the country’s agricultural sector. Lebanon allows cannabis cultivation for medicinal and industrial purposes, but recreational use is still prohibited.

Hopes are high for legalization in the U.S., and soon

As more countries and new U.S. states legalize marijuana, it will be far easier to invest in…

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