Earlier this month Bank of America Merrill Lynch put out a research report on the marijuana industry’s prospects. Touted as the first such assessment by a major financial institution, the report is a milestone in a fast-growing sector that is hungry for mainstream recognition and the money that comes with it. But a close reading of the report makes clear that marijuana has a long way to go before it resembles a normal American industry.
Twenty-three states currently allow some form of legal marijuana and voters in four states and Washington, D.C., have voted to allow recreational use. Next election day, California and between five and 10 other states are likely to vote on recreational legalization.
In 2014, legal marijuana was the fastest growing industry in the country, grossing $2.7 billion and all signs indicate that it will notch strong growth again this year. The report suggests that it could reach $35 billion by 2020. For comparison, the U.S. pet industry does about $60 billion a year in sales.
But legal marijuana it is not yet a major American industry; only a small fraction of the growers, manufacturers, and sellers have a presence in more than one state.
The report, called “Medical Cannabis has high POTential: A joint biotech and tools Primer” does weed the favor of taking it seriously. It focuses primarily on the medical side with sections devoted to the possibility of cannabis-derived drugs to treat a wide range of illnesses including schizophrenia, type II diabetes, post-traumatic stress disorders and even types of cancer. Among cannabis advocates it’s widely believed that the plant has many as of yet untapped health benefits. The report considers them in the context of pharmaceuticals that could be approved through the established and rigorous FDA process.