At least one thing is constant in the dizzyingly dynamic cannabis industry—its propensity for constant change. The close of 2022 was particularly exciting as new markets opened (including giants like New York State) and the usual flurry of cannabis trade shows, conventions and networking events brought our industry together and hinted at where it might go next.
Across 2022 many of our predictions for the cannabis industry came to fruition—particularly the intensification of cannabis branding, the rise of minor cannabinoids in customer consciousness and grand entrance of psychedelic companies to the scene.
But 2023 is sure to have even more in store as cannabis becomes less siloed and pressure for federal legalization intensifies. Here are just a few of our predictions for how the cannabis industry—and the way cannabis and psychedelics brands approach marketing—will change in 2023.
- 2023 is the year of the cannabis brand. Up until very recently, even big markets like California and Colorado could look like small ponds for growing brands. It’s eminently challenging to build a brand in a silo, but as the East Coast, Midwest and South fill in the national map of legal markets, brands have a true opportunity for ubiquity.
As 2023 matures, the largest and most-prepared cannabis brands (think Cookies) will begin to gain more widespread consumer awareness and national brand recognition. New York and New Jersey are up and running, Michigan and Illinois are kicking ass, and veteran markets from California to Colorado continue to hum. By this time next year, it’s entirely possible we will look back at 2023 and understand it was the year that leading cannabis brands finally began to become household names nationwide, regardless of whether they got their start in Colorado or Connecticut.
- A new generation of cannabis journalists is here. As the New York cannabis market grows into what is sure to be one of the biggest in the United States, an under-anticipated result is how legal weed will shape one of the city’s other massive industries. New York City has long been the epicenter of media and publishing in the United States. Of course, Gotham journos took note and showed up in droves for the opening of the first legal cannabis dispensary in New York state—Housing Works Cannabis Company.
Some of the veteran reporters and photographers in attendance said they’d never seen anything like the soft opening press event. That initial response suggests that many more New York City publications will be assigning journalists to dedicated cannabis beats like the one our own Ricardo Baca pioneered at The Denver Post. Intense coverage of cannabis in New York not only affects how local and regional outlets approach Empire State cannabis brands. As Ricardo recently noted in Ganjaprenuer, as New York media companies warm up to cannabis stories, it will expand and impact national coverage, too.
- Federal legalization won’t happen in 2023. This might be the year of the cannabis brand, but federal legalization won’t happen yet. As Ricardo recently told MJ Brand Insights, however, that doesn’t mean cannabis operators should think small. CEOs don’t want to be caught off guard when the government does end prohibition. Now is the time to get set up for future success by anticipating how federal legalization will impact cannabis businesses in ways large and small.
Cultivators can proactively build their grows toward likely shifts in state and federal agricultural guidelines, for example, by keeping one eye on the USDA. Producers and retailers can refine their brand messaging with existing FDA and FCC advertising regulations in mind using content compliance tools to verify adherence. After all, it’s much more preferable to embrace a future-forward perspective and make necessary changes ahead of time, rather than to get caught flat-footed when fast-changing compliance laws and federal scrutiny have your license on the line.
- Scheduling—or rescheduling—of cannabis will happen before legalization. All of us remember President Biden’s historic announcement on cannabis back in October 2022—and his decision to call on the Department of Health and Human Services and Attorney General Merik Garland to reexamine how the government classifies cannabis. There’s good reason for confidence that in 2023 we will see meaningful movement toward descheduling cannabis.
One reason for optimism is that HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra is a veteran politician with a unique history of addressing cannabis from a sane and modern viewpoint. It’s rare to have such a high-ranking official in the federal government who doesn’t speak about this plant in anachronistic terms.
While it’s certainly a possibility that cannabis could be rescheduled to a less restrictive category rather than descheduled entirely, it seems hopeful that Mr. Becerra and Mr. Garland might successfully advise President Biden to do the right thing. We all know that cannabis should never have been scheduled in the first place, and now is the time for cannabis industry leaders to step up and speak out—and to fight for progress toward federal legality in whatever way necessary.
- Psychedelics are here—but the market won’t look like cannabis. We predicted last year that legal psychedelics would step out onto the main stage in 2022. Now that Colorado Proposition 122 has passed—which legalized the supervised administration of dimethyltryptamine, ibogaine, mescaline (excluding peyote), psilocybin, and psilocyn—the conversation around regulated psychedelics definitely isn’t going anywhere.
Indeed, Ricardo also had the honor of leading a panel at the inaugural reMind Psychedelics Business Forum in November. One of our primary takeaways from entrepreneurs and investors in attendance was that the psychedelics industry will look nothing like the cannabis industry.
For example, in both Oregon (which also flipped the switch on legal psilocybin in January 2023) and Colorado, psychedelics won’t be available through the dispensary retail model. Rather than picking up a few grams of magic mushrooms on the way to a show at Red Rocks, for example, as one might pick up a cannabis pre-roll or edible, psilocybin will only be available through licensed service centers.
The way that legal psychedelics have initially been regulated is fundamentally different from even the early days of medical cannabis—and it’s setting a precedent for how these substances are branded, marketed and sold in future legal states. The sooner we all take those essential differences to heart, the more successful and efficient our work in each of these spaces will be.
Want to see more predictions from the start of 2022? Here are a few more cannabis trend and marketing insights from this time last year.