With marijuana (cannabis) legalization sweeping the nation, challenges have cropped up for big business, health and advertising. Lately, the topic has grabbed media attention, and I have written several pieces about health effects marijuana users may experience from chronic use, which can lead or exacerbate mental health issues and open the door to addiction and other process disorders. Marijuana, however, is here to stay!

In economic terms, the market is exploding. The cannabis market is projected to hit $23.4 billion in sales by 2022, up from $11 billion in 2018 (based on estimates), and analysts project the market to reach as high as $75 billion in U.S. sales by 2030, says Troy Dayton, chief executive of cannabis investment and market research firm Arcview. In California alone – America’s largest commercial marijuana market – sales are expected to hit $3.7 billion by the end of 2018, which could be a tax windfall for the state, according to Business Insider, February, 2018.

With such a boon in sales and room to grow, the industry is attracting top talent from Silicon Valley looking to catch the new wave. The L.A. Times, in an article published July 13th by Tracey Lien, reports folks at big tech companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook are taking their skills and putting them to work for cannabis startups. “I saw this huge shift,” says Natasha Pecor, a former product manager at Amazon who moved to Eaze, an online cannabis marketplace. “I never thought it would happen in my lifetime, and I knew I just wouldn’t forgive myself if I wasn’t part of it.”

Pecor isn’t alone. Techies are willing to take a risk for a new challenge and a potential big payday. Plus, times have changed. For several years, top job seekers flocked to Silicon Valley eager to change the world in the way of social media companies, startups, apps and gadgets, and other e-commerce platforms. These new frontier companies of yesterday are the stalwarts of today, paving the way for marijuana to be the new business on the block.

The surge of tech workers into the cannabis industry benefits the market, say business analysts. Just as Apple made waves with stylish designs for their products, tech workers are bringing similar experience to marijuana startups, which bring a plethora of new products. “The polish they [techies] have brought to the industry has led to cannabis vaporizers that look more like discreet smartphones and online marketplaces whose designs resemble Netflix,” writes Tracey Lien for the L.A. Times. New innovations bring cash flow, in turn expanding the market as other states follow suit and putting pressure on the federal government to legalize.

Despite the economic boom, new data points to some harmful health effects for teens and children. According to an article published July 13th in the L.A. Times by Patrick McGreevy, “state and local officials say they are alarmed by a rise in calls they have received to report children and teenagers ingesting marijuana products since California legalized cannabis for recreational use by adults in 2016.”

In fact, 588 calls were made to poison control centers involving adolescents 19 and younger last year, a steady rise from 347 calls from three years ago, reports the L.A. Times. “Parents and families should be aware that as marijuana becomes more and more available in various forms, it should be treated as any other potentially harmful product and be kept safely and securely away from children,” said Stuart E. Heard, executive director of the California Poison Control System.

The issue is that young adults and children ingest marijuana products in the form of ‘edibles’ – cookies, brownies and candy – without knowing they are infused with THC, the chemical in marijuana leaves that causes the high. Harmful effects young adults may experience from consuming marijuana edibles include a rapid heart rate, dilated pupils, confusion and nausea, dizziness and lethargy.

Still, marijuana legalization supporters claim this issue will be curbed with new state regulations that prohibit the sale and marketing of edibles to minors and child-resistant packaging. “Edibles are attractive to young people and pets,” Dale Gieringer, director of California’s National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), to the L.A. Times. “The new labeling and packaging rules mandated by Prop. 64 should alleviate the problem.”

These rules and regulation changes for the rollout of marijuana may not be enough. With big marijuana comes big advertising, and the concerns are ample. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, in an article dated July 9th, Gary Robbins reports marijuana is increasingly touted online as “a magical elixir for virtually every disease that afflicts humans” and that “cannabis cures cancer.” However, there isn’t enough science and research to back up this claim.

“We know that a component in cannabis – CBD – might be useful in treating cancer,” said Dr. Joseph A. Califano III, director of the Head and Neck Cancer Center at UC San Diego. “But we don’t know if marijuana can stop or cure it.” More research needs to be done. “What’s happening right now with marijuana reminds me of tobacco at the end of World War II. There was an explosion in its use, but little science to let people know what we were dealing with,” Califano added.

 

The issue with new scientific study is that it requires funding from the federal government that has yet to legalize marijuana nationwide. As such, new reports coming out about misleading advertising and health risks for under-aged people raise concerns for the health and vitality of our nation.

 

New advertising agencies and marketers who specialize in cannabis marketing are even popping up. Cannabrand is the world’s first cannabis marketing agency and says they “partner with companies who share the vision of destigmatizing cannabis and breaking ground in this dynamic industry.” As such, the industry appears to be ramping up their efforts in all spaces to get a piece of the share.

 

I wonder – how will new laws address these concerns? How will legalization impact the American culture? What advertising rules will there be? Will folks examine the potency of the product as they do with proof for alcohol? What will be the effect on drugged driving? Will we have a culture full of folks who have state-dependent learning, meaning they learned while under the influence of a mind altering substance?

 

As an experienced social work clinician and interventionist, these issues concern me. I have seen firsthand how substance abuse, process disorders, chronic pain and mental health (i.e. anxiety, depression, etc.) affect the American people. For me as a clinician, researcher and citizen the jury is still out as the marijuana industry continues to escalate.

 

Feel free to add your voice and share your thoughts and concerns.

 

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