US Cannabis CEOs Say Coronavirus Crisis Will Speed Up Legalization

‘We have been deemed essential’

U.S. cannabis CEOs say the chances for federal marijuana legalization will dramatically increase in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, after several states declared dispensaries essential businesses, allowing them to remain open during stay-at-home orders aimed at halting the spread of the virus. 

CNBC spoke with the leaders of U.S. based cannabis producers Cresco Labs, Curaleaf and Green Thumb Industries as well as cannabis investor Matt Hawkins about the state of the industry ahead of April 20, also known as “4/20,” the unofficial holiday for recreational cannabis users.

“When we all start to be able to lift our heads from this Covid experience, we are going to be faced with a scenario where a lot of jobs have gone away, a lot of economic development impact has disappeared,” said Charlie Bachtell, CEO of Cresco Labs. “How are we going to bring that back? I think cannabis has to be part of that discussion.”

According to Cowen estimates, the U.S. cannabis market is worth approximately $56 billion in 2020 with about 90% of sales going untaxed in the illegal market.

“One of the programs by the federal government right after the Great Depression was to focus on tax revenue generation,” said Curaleaf CEO Boris Johnson. “They lifted prohibition on alcohol and therefore started to tax it — and it became a major revenue generator for both the federal and the local governments around the country.” 

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