The cannabis industry took major strides forward in 2019, from Ohio’s launch of medical cannabis sales in January to Michigan’s announcement that it would start adult-use sales in December. Congress took up critical policy reform legislation, with the House passing the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in September and a key House committee approving the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act in mid-November.
Hemp and CBD were also a topic of industry conversation, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) releasing interim hemp regulations in October and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) holding its first-ever public hearing on CBD at the beginning of June.
Here, we’ve rounded up the industry’s biggest moments of the year.
1. Ohio Launches Medical Marijuana Sales
A retired government employee and a multiple sclerosis patient were among the first patients in Ohio to purchase medical cannabis on the crisp winter morning of Jan. 16, when the state’s first dispensaries opened to the public. We caught up with Cresco Labs’ CY+ Dispensary in Wintersville and The Forest in Sandusky about opening day and their first sales. Read more
2. Illinois Legalizes Cannabis
On May 30, with the clock ticking to adjournment, the Illinois Senate voted 38-17 to pass the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA), a comprehensive measure to legalize adult-use cannabis. The very next day, on May 31, the House approved the bill 66-47, sending it to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk. Pritzker, who called for legalization in his gubernatorial campaign, signed the legislation into law June 25, setting the stage for adult-use sales to launch Jan. 1, 2020. Read more
3. FDA Holds First-Ever Public Hearing on CBD
The FDA held a hearing May 31 to receive public comment on CBD in an effort to craft yet-to-be-released guidance that will likely take aim at developing industry standards and regulating label claims. The nearly 10-hour hearing saw more than 100 speakers provide testimony about the vast array of experiences and facets of the industry from the past few years. Read more
4. Louisiana Pharmacies Launch Medical Cannabis Sales
Louisiana launched its much-anticipated medical cannabis program in early August, and Baton Rouge’s Capitol Wellness Solutions made the first regulated medical cannabis sales in the state to two cancer patients and a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We spoke with Capitol Wellness Solutions Founder and CEO Randy Mire about the first days of sales. Read more
5. Vaping-Related Lung Disease Prompts Public Health Questions Across Cannabis Industry
At the end of the summer, reports of vape-related lung illnesses and deaths grabbed national headlines and shook the cannabis industry to its core. As the weeks went on, vitamin E acetate, terpene content and the illicit market became the likely culprits, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed in early November that vitamin E acetate was to blame for patients’ lung injuries, although federal health officials were not ruling out other causes. Read more
6. U.S. House Passes SAFE Banking Act
In the first major floor vote in Washington, D.C., for any comprehensive cannabis reform legislation, the U.S. House voted Sept. 25 to pass the SAFE Banking Act, which would provide a safe harbor for financial institutions that work with cannabis business clients. The Senate proves to be a much more complicated political landscape for cannabis legislation, however, and the bill has yet to come up for a vote in that chamber. Read more
7. With White House Approval, USDA Posts Interim Hemp Regulations
Even with the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp as a crop, the lack of federal guardrails has dragged several prohibition-era problems into the present. In late October, however, the USDA released its draft of interim rules for the hemp industry, prompting industry stakeholders and observers to look ahead to a new era in the business. Read more
8. Michigan Plans to Launch Adult-Use Cannabis Sales Dec. 1
Michigan regulators unveiled plans in mid-November to launch adult-use cannabis sales at the start of December, although only a handful of recreational business licenses have been issued and supply may be limited as the market finds its footing. Read more
9. Key House Committee Approves MORE Act to Federally Decriminalize Cannabis
2019 seems to be going out with a bang, as the House Judiciary Committee approved the MORE Act Nov. 20 in a historic vote that marks the first time a congressional committee has approved a piece of legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition. The bill, introduced in July by House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), would decriminalize cannabis federally by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. Read more