Is Cannabis Legalization Finally Easing Into The South?

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Of the potential markets left untapped in America's legal marijuana industry, The South is the biggest of them all. A collective 125.5 million people live in the Southern United States, and only a fraction of them have access to medical marijuana. None of those 125.5 million Americans have access to recreational or adult-use marijuana.

That’s 38 percent of the country, a vast market for cannabis entrepreneurs. But social conservatism and a reluctance to change marijuana policy have kept this market from getting developed. That could change soon.

Here’s where things stand with The South and legal cannabis

As of March 2020, only three states designated by the U.S. Census Bureau as the South have legal medical marijuana: Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida. Arkansas and Louisiana are both relatively small states, with a combined population of about 7.6 million. 

Florida isn’t particularly aligned with the rest of The South, once you reach Gainesville. Orlando, Tampa Bay, and South Florida have little in common with the Red States of The South. But Florida, with 21.4 million, is considered the region’s big prize, alongside with Texas. 

ArcView Market Research and BDS Analytics project the Florida medical cannabis sector will hit $1.6 billion by 2022 and $2.5 billion by 2025.

The marijuana opportunity in the South is enormous

Outside of those three states, about 96 million people have no access in The South to medical marijuana. As previously mentioned, recreational cannabis isn’t accessible anywhere.

Because it often does not have the cultural or media influence of the Atlantic and Pacific Coast-states, people often underestimate the sheer market size of The South. For example, there are more people in both Alabama and Louisiana than there are in Oregon or Nevada. Tennessee has far more people than Colorado and about the same as Massachusetts. That’s why, for entrepreneurs looking for opportunities, The South is very attractive.

In 2020, the two most likely states to approve medical marijuana—becoming the 34th and 35th states to do so—are Alabama and Kentucky.

Senate considering Alabama bill

A bill legalizing medical marijuana in Alabama has made its way out of committee and will get a full vote from the Senate.

The bill would allow those 19 and older to get a prescription for medical marijuana to treat certain conditions. Those conditions include anxiety, autism, cancer-related illnesses, Crohn’s Disease, epilepsy, fibromyalgia, HIV/AIDS-related nausea or weight loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders, Tourette’s Syndrome and conditions causing chronic or intractable pain.

The bill outlaws smoking, vaping or eating cannabis. Patients would only have the option to use oils, tablets or an inhaler. 

However, the bill faces strong opposition from law enforcement, conservative groups and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, according to the Associated Press

Questions about medical marijuana in Kentucky

A bill legalizing medical marijuana in Kentucky has moved through the state House and received support from both Democrats and Republicans. The bill would set up one of the most restrictive medical marijuana programs in the country, but advocates see it as a first step in the right direction.

However, the bill now sits in the Kentucky Senate, where it took weeks to even get assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. No hearing had been set as of early March. It’s not clear if that will even happen.

Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, a Republican, told the Louisville Courier-Journal he has issues with the bill and isn’t sure he will hold a hearing. According to the Courier-Journal, socially conservative Republicans oppose the bill on the grounds that insufficient research has been done on medical marijuana. They also argue that legalizing medical cannabis “could be a slippery slope” to recreational marijuana.

Eleven states have already "slipped down that slope" to much success: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, Nevada, Vermont, and Washington. 

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Jason Nemes, still expects it to pass and told the Courier-Journal it has the votes to win passage on the Senate floor. 

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