2023 in Review and Outlook for 2024 in Cannabis

January 15, 2024
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The cannabis industry has seen its fair share of challenges and triumphs in 2023, with significant developments in compliance, market expansion, and industry evolution. As we step into 2024, it’s important to reflect on the past year’s events and look ahead to what the future may hold for our rapidly evolving sector.

New Markets Coming Online

One of the most notable highlights of 2023 was the launch of new cannabis markets across the United States. Several states, including Alabama, Connecticut, Montana, Rhode Island, and South Carolina, legalized either medical or adult-use cannabis. This expansion reflects the growing acceptance of cannabis nationwide and presents lucrative opportunities for industry stakeholders.

These newly legalized markets have opened doors for entrepreneurs, cultivators, manufacturers, and retailers to establish their presence. It’s an exciting time for the industry, as each state brings its unique regulatory framework and market dynamics to the table.

However, entering these markets comes with its set of challenges, primarily focused on compliance with state-specific regulations and fierce competition. As the industry matures, businesses must prioritize regulatory adherence to navigate these emerging landscapes successfully.

Increased Compliance Enforcement and Crackdown on Illicit Activity

In 2023, compliance enforcement intensified in established cannabis markets, signaling a significant shift in regulatory focus. States such as Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, California, and Oregon made concerted efforts to crack down on illicit cannabis activities.

This heightened enforcement was a response to the persistence of unlicensed operators and illegal cannabis sales, which threatened the integrity of the legal cannabis industry. States like NY are still heavily hampered by illicit operations heavily outweighing and outcompeting legal ones. Regulatory bodies and law enforcement agencies worked together to identify and shut down illegal operations, emphasizing the importance of complying with state regulations.

Businesses operating within these established markets found themselves under increased scrutiny. Compliance became a top priority, with companies unable or unwilling to invest in robust compliance programs and solutions failing to ensure adherence to stringent state guidelines. The message was clear: the industry’s future lies in compliance, transparency, and responsible business practices.

Industry Challenges: Oversupply and Depressed Prices

Despite the growth in new markets and the increasing emphasis on compliance, the cannabis industry faced challenges in 2023. One of the most pressing issues was oversupply, leading to depressed prices. Oversaturation of the market, coupled with increased competition, resulted in a surplus of cannabis products post-pandemic. This market correction is slow to turn the corner and increase wholesale prices.

This oversupply had a direct impact on pricing, with many cultivators and manufacturers struggling to maintain profitability. As consumers benefited from low prices, businesses grappled with reduced profit margins, making it essential for them to adapt and innovate to remain competitive.

Industry experts suggest that this oversupply issue may continue into 2024, forcing cannabis businesses to explore diversification, value-added products, and improved operational efficiency to stay afloat in a highly competitive landscape.

Outlook for 2024

As we look forward to 2024, the cannabis industry is poised for continued growth and evolution. Here are some key trends and considerations for the year ahead:

  1. Market Maturation: New markets will continue to mature, presenting both opportunities and challenges for businesses. Those that can navigate the complexities of compliance, taxation, and local regulations will thrive. This translates into securing SOPs and intellectual property as definitive guidance by which to manage the business instead of it managing new operators.
  2. Technological Advancements: The industry will witness further advancements in technology, particularly in areas such as automation, compliance software, and customer-focused apps. These innovations will continue to enhance efficiency and consumer experiences.
  3. Federal Legalization: The possibility of federal cannabis legalization remains a topic of discussion. While it may not happen in 2024, ongoing debates and potential legislation will shape the industry’s future. There are major ramifications and differences between de-scheduling and rescheduling which will affect State approaches to interstate commerce and mandate federal guidelines in testing, packaging, labeling, and taxation.
  4. Sustainability: Sustainability practices will gain prominence as consumers and regulators emphasize eco-friendly cannabis production methods and packaging solutions. Sustainability outside of regulatory mandate is also a product of increase efficiencies needed to survive depressed market prices.
  5. Diversification: Businesses will diversify their product offerings, exploring new segments such as infused beverages, edibles, and wellness products to reduce reliance on flower sales. Especially as hospitality businesses continue to enter into social normativity and become an every day reality for consumers seeking an alternative to alcohol and hangovers with low-dose social options. 
  6. Consolidation: As the industry matures, expect to see more mergers and acquisitions as larger players seek to expand their market share and influence. Especially as distressed assets, inefficient and non-compliant businesses continue to struggle to keep up with inflation, compliance costs, and increased regulatory burdens.

In conclusion, 2023 was a transformative year for the cannabis industry, marked by market expansion, increased enforcement efforts, and challenges related to oversupply. As we move into 2024, businesses that prioritize compliance, innovation, and adaptability will be well-positioned to thrive in this dynamic and ever-changing landscape. The cannabis industry’s future holds promise, but success will require a commitment to responsible practices, smart businesses practices, reducing costs, and keeping a keen eye on emerging trends and changing regulations in each market.