These elections could prove a tipping point for cannabis, especially if California’s Proposition 64–Adult Use of Marijuana Act passes. Already, about 50 percent of the states have legalized medical marijuana. Cannabis advocates believe that a win in California—where legalizing recreational weed is expected to pass—will open the floodgates for other states to follow. As Hadley Ford, CEO of cannabis-financing company iAnthus says, "The most important part of the upcoming election in November are in the states that are voting for recreational referendums to pass." Ford goes on, "A referendum passing in California will be a big win nationwide as California typically tends to be the state that leads trends in the nation."
Passage in America’s most populous state—California—would make pot legal up and down the West Coast and will likely give momentum to advocates trying to lift the ban nationwide. If voters legalize marijuana in Massachusetts, which is likely given recent poll numbers, it would make Boston a key Northeastern market for recreational pot.
And across the country, approval for legalizing cannabis looks like it has finally reached critical mass; a recent Gallup poll shows 60 percent of American adults now say that marijuana should be legal. Compare that to when Gallup first asked about legalization in 1969: only 12 percent of Americans supported the idea. If all of the November measures pass, the percentage of Americans living in states where pot use is legal could rise from about 5 percent to as much as 25 percent.
All of this points to legalized weed becoming big business. According to a recent report from the ArcView Market Research and New Frontier, pot sales in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Washington, D.C.—the five places where recreational marijuana is currently legal—grew to $5.7 billion last year, up from $4.6 billion in 2014. That same report predicts that legal marijuana sales in the U.S. are expected to exceed $22 billion by 2020, with California leading the nation.
But beyond the potential tax revenue that could be coming to states across the country, how will the spread of legalized cannabis affect the American landscape? To answer this question, Curbed took a look at five ways recreational marijuana could change your city.
1. The pot store as the new liquor store:
It won’t happen overnight, but it’s likely that in states that legalize weed, urban areas will see a proliferation of retail marijuana shops. As of November 1, the state of Colorado has 454 licensed retail marijuana businesses and somewhere between 600-700 storefronts that sell either medical marijuana or retail pot. Denver—the state capital—has the highest concentration of stores and as anti-marijuana campaigns like to point out, the state has more pot shops than Starbucks, McDonalds, and 7-elevens combined. In essence, the retail marijuana store has become as ubiquitous as the neighborhood liquor store.
Not every city in states that legalize marijuana will have such a high concentration of stores. Like in Colorado, most of the laws currently on the ballot allow local cities to choose whether they want to allow legal marijuana. According to the Colorado Municipal League, almost 72 percent of Colorado municipalities that have addressed the issue of recreational marijuana had banned it as of April 2015. This means that while smaller towns or rural counties might prohibit retail marijuana, larger cities will likely follow in Denver’s footsteps.
2. Cannabis—in all its forms—will become more visible:
When marijuana was first legalized in Colorado and Washington in 2012, critics feared that city blocks would be overrun by dangerous potheads. Four years later those fears haven’t come to pass, especially because it’s still illegal to consume weed in public locations. That being said, since legalization there has been an uptick in the visibility of cannabis.
While some retail storefronts still look the part of a stereotypical weed shop—pot leaves, patchouli, and all—a new era of high-design shops are redefining the retail marijuana experience. With sleek interiors, security guards, and cases that look like they belong in luxury jewelry boutiques, today’s pot shops are working to reshape people’s perceptions.
The sheer number of new retail marijuana stores has also increased visibility. Although there are only a handful of retail locations on Denver’s most touristy streets, a section of Broadway just south of the city boasts 17 dispensaries on a one mile stretch now nicknamed the Green Mile. Some claim it’s the most pot shops in one spot anywhere in the world. While the Green Mile is an extreme example, take a walk down the busiest streets of Portland, Denver, and Seattle and it’s likely you’ll smell or see pot at some point.
Pot has also entered the mainstream conversation. The Denver Post runs a marijuana-focused division of its paper (called the Cannabist) and the nightly news in Seattle, Denver, or Portland usually reports on at least one pot-related story each evening. With all those shops and with advocates working to break down the taboos surrounding weed, marijuana is no longer a marginalized topic.
3. You’ll see more businesses that support the marijuana industry:
Because marijuana is still illegal on a federal level and banks are federally chartered, it can be difficult to get a loan when starting a marijuana-related business. Financing for these businesses often requires using private investors. On top of this, it’s hard to know where a retail shop or grow house is allowed. Companies like the startup Herbfront are trying to take the guess work out of starting a retail marijuana business by providing a legal cannabis property listing service online. Think of it as the Zillow of pot.
Herbfront allows entrepreneurs to verify if their property is in compliance with local zoning laws, search for new listings, and even provides consulting services. As Jake Meilach, partner of Herbfront Capital, explains, "With all of the challenges above, many cannabis operators are forced to raise capital to not just include traditional working capital expenses (lease payments, inventory, payroll, etc), but to also include 100% of the cost of the real estate, which is the most capital intensive piece of the puzzle. This drastically dilutes their ownership and ultimately their profitability."
With new states on the verge of legalizing recreational or medical marijuana, the cannabis industry will need companies like Herbfront to manage the challenges of starting a pot-centric business.
4. Get ready for state-of-the-art grow houses:
Forget growing weed in your basement, the legalization of pot has brought a shift from backyard operations to 200,000-square-foot greenhouses that boast advanced lighting and water systems. To build these new facilities, growers in places like Portland and Denver have engaged in a land-grab for warehouse and retail space over the past few years.
According to the Oregonian, limited commercial space has rented for well above market price since Oregon legalized recreational weed, and a similar rush occurred in Denver. According to one report, the marijuana industry accounted for 35.8 percent of Denver’s newly occupied and constructed industrial space between 2009 and 2014 (pot was legalized in 2012).
While the retail shops in cities will likely be more visible than the grow houses, these new growing facilities will have a big impact. In Denver, the state ordered that growers have to set up shop at least 1,000 feet away from residential areas. This caused most of the facilities to be concentrated in certain parts of town and drove up both lease rates and sale prices.
Industrial broker Mike Veihmann with Cushman & Wakefield told 12 News that marijuana growers have "gone into these buildings that were formerly, you know, class C manufacturing buildings that were trading for $40 to $50 a square foot on a sale basis. They are now trading for upwards of $100 a square foot."
5. Cannabis could be coming to a hotel or bar near you:
While expanding legal access to pot is the first step for many states, cannabis proponents are also looking to make it easier to use marijuana in public places. Voters in Denver are set to consider this problem on November 8 with Initiated Ordinance 300, a proposal that would open businesses to marijuana consumption.
If approved, interested businesses would need to apply for a license from the city and would need the approval of at least one registered neighborhood organization. It also can’t be within 1,000 feet of "anywhere children congregate." Additionally, the business must conform to the Clean Indoor Air Act, meaning someone couldn’t just light up a joint inside, but people 21 and over could vape and consume edibles indoors.
Even with these restrictions, if Denver voters approve public pot use, it would create the opportunity for marijuana use in hotels, bars, and even yoga studios. It could be especially advantageous for tourists who lack a place to consume cannabis. In addition, it would also make things easier for the small but growing group of entrepreneurs offering pot-friendly hotels, vacations, and tours. Consuming cannabis could, in effect, look a lot like having a glass of wine or a cocktail.