2021 was a revolutionary year for marijuana legalization, as more and more of the country moves toward accepting the use of pot. In the November 2020 election, four different states voted to legalize recreational adult-use cannabis: New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota, and Montana. South Dakota has now been stripped from that list as its State Supreme Court overturned the voter-approved legalization measure at Governor Kristi Noem's request. South Dakota and Mississippi also voted to create medical marijuana programs, and those are advancing smoothly in both states.

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Where Might We See Legal Weed in 2022

Since South Dakota's legalization measure was stuffed, there are now 18 states plus the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories that have legal recreational marijuana. There are 36 total that allow the medicinal use of cannabis. In 2022, more states could be added to the list of areas that have okayed the use of weed. The CEO of MJBiz, Chris Walsh predicted at a conference recently that at least four more states will legalize some form of marijuana in the coming year. He thinks states to watch for recreational marijuana include Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Maryland, and Arkansas. South Dakota could also pass legal marijuana a second time in 2022, since its first attempt was struck down. For medical marijuana, Walsh says to keep an eye on Nebraska and Idaho. He thinks Wyoming might decriminalize cannabis. Other experts think Delaware, Rhode Island, Florida, and Pennsylvania could be on the list to keep an eye on for recreational cannabis, plus Mississippi and North Carolina for medical use.

Image of a hand submitting a white envelope into a ballot box in front of a blue background. Several states will be voting on cannabis bills in 2022. Source: Shutterstock
Walsh is also thinking big, and thinking positively, believing 2022 has the potential to double marijuana retail sales. He's thinking we'll see a $45.9 billion market by 2025.

Federal Cannabis Legalization

He isn't all rainbows, however. Walsh seems to have little faith in the federal government, predicting the high office will not decriminalize or legalize weed at the top level, or even pass banking reform for businesses that operate within the cannabis industry. Not everyone agrees with that assessment, though – with the Pew Research Center counting 91% of Americans as in favor of legalizing marijuana for either adult-use or medical use, many believe there's more attention on federal legalization than ever before, and 2022 could be the year we see it happen. When talking with Business Insider, many cannabis CEOs remained hopeful that the United States Congress would legalize marijuana at the federal level, but predicted most action would be at the state level. That group of leaders in the cannabis industry also said more European countries are likely to weigh in on the product and could even climb their way to the top of the international market.

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Canada's Marijuana Market Explosion

The Cannabis Act legalized cannabis in the entire nation of Canada in 2018. The country also now allows the production and sale of edibles, extracts, and topicals. Adults over the age of 18 can possess and share up to 30 grams of cannabis purchased from federally and provincially-licensed retailers. People in Canada can also grow up to four of their own cannabis plants for personal use, and use those to make food and drinks, but not concentrates. The cannabis market in Canada has exploded since then, and is likely to continue growing rapidly. Some estimates place Canada's marijuana market at a $6.7 billion industry by 2026. The country is still likely to face capacity problems, since much of its marijuana is grown outside the country. That is likely to lead to more big mergers — the nation already saw a record number of mergers and acquisitions in 2021 as companies struggle to make it out of the red. Walsh of MJBiz is also predicting big mergers between companies in the U.S. and Canada.

New Cannabinoid Discoveries

There are over 100 different cannabinoids within the cannabis plant. Each of those attaches to the human endocannabinoid system differently and affects the body in different ways. That's why CBD has many of the same anti-inflammatory, anti-stress benefits as THC, but doesn't come with the "high" feeling people typically associate with marijuana. Recently, more and more of those cannabinoids are being isolated and used independently for their own effects. Delta-8 and Delta-10 are both prime examples of that – the two isolates are on the rise, marketed as an intermediary between CBD and THC. CBD, CBN, THCV, and THC-O, THC-P and CCH are all hitting the shelves, too. Each isolate also benefits from a legal grey area that allows them to be sold in areas where marijuana remains illegal – at least, until those state governments crack down on the particular chemical compound.

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The Rise of Biotech

Moving in 2022, more and more biotechs are getting into the race to develop the next big thing. Experts believe it could be a $115 billion market by 2040. That's compared to a $100 billion projection for cannabis as a whole by 2030.

Graph of THCV's chemical structure. THCV was one of 2021's most popular cannabinoids, what will be the trend in 2022? Source: Shutterstock
The problem is, developing new cannabinoid preparations requires millions of dollars in investment money. It requires scientific exploration, and production is difficult because each of those isolates is present in the marijuana plant in only very small quantities. That means companies already have to have the fluidity to dump enough cash into the process in order to get involved; it's unlikely small local businesses will be able to develop their own product at first. The biggest hurdle, however, will be with regulation of each isolate. Two companies, Ginko Bioworks and Creo, say they're using state-of-the-art biosynthesis techniques to make the isolation process more affordable, more scalable, more consistent, and faster. Those companies are comparing the analysis of cannabinoids to the brewing of craft beer; each step of the process, from cultivation to processing, affects the final product and tailors it to individual customers' tastes. We expect to see a lot of movement in novel cannabinoids, though whether or not that's a good thing remains to be seen. Many experts believe terpenes are going to be more relevant in 2022. There's a theory that the interest in the effects of Sativa vs. Indica is dying out, and that there will instead be a greater emphasis on how terpenes can affect a user's experience.

Other Predictions for Cannabis in the New Year

There are some other more minor changes we might see in 2022. There could be a greater emphasis on cannabis branding, with people becoming more loyal to specific companies or strains over specific dispensaries. The dip into the wellness market is likely to continue, as that industry is measured in the trillions, rather than the billions like cannabis. Brands may tailor themselves more toward personal optimization and mindfulness to link up with that trend. Sale and advertising over the internet and social media is also likely to heat up. And most folks think cannabis lounges are going to become more of a thing in 2022 as cannabis tourism keeps growing and people want a comfortable space to get high.