C3's Vishal Rungta is bullish on the Midwest. (LinkedIn)

For more than two thirds of the United States, cannabis consumption has become culturally accepted and commercially viable. Assuming the federal government will continue to legitimize the industry this year, the Midwest will be at the center of the pot party. 

“We believe the Midwestern states will continue to demonstrate huge potential and cement their positions as some of the largest legal cannabis markets in the country,” says Vishal Rungta, president and CFO of Ann Arbor-based C3 Industries. 

After establishing operations in Oregon in 2017, vertically integrated C3 is investing heavily in Michigan, Missouri and Massachusetts in the coming year. This includes building a 70,000 square-foot cultivation facility in Webberville, Michigan and opening five dispensaries and a manufacturing facility in Missouri.  

In 2021, Chicago will continue its evolution from hog butcher for the world to hash broker for states where licenses are limited. While fortunes for companies like Green Thumb Industries (GTI), Cresco Labs, and Verano will continue to rise as the Eastern Seaboard gets into weed, there is also hope that Illinois state regulators will figure out a way to extend licenses to a more diverse set of business owners.  

“I’m looking forward to seeing more Black and brown communities benefit from more diversity. Definitely tired of stores in predominantly white areas,” says Gina Gault, Community Outreach Specialist for GTI’s RISE Cannabis Dispensaries and a board member of Illinois Women in Cannabis. “I hope to see more women take leadership and ownership roles in 2021.”

While Michigan cannabis companies may not be as high profile as those on the other side of Lake Michigan, the state’s more mature marijuana market is projected to reach as much as three billion in annual sales next year.

This will create more “good paying jobs and tax revenue,” says Robin Schneider, executive director of the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association.

“We have so much more growth to look forward to including the opening of state-licensed facilities, social consumption lounges and cannabis events,” she said. 

As Missouri’s medical marijuana program works through initial growing pains, efforts are firmly underway to expand sales beyond the state’s nearly 100,000 medical card holders. 

“By the end of the year, there will be a concerted effort to place an adult-use constitutional amendment on the 2022 ballot in Missouri,” says Kansas City native Jeremy Unruh, a senior vice president at Chicago-based multi state operator PharmaCann, adding that, “Ohio will continue on the same path it’s on: Steady as she goes.”

National normalization 

A bud boom unlike anything we’ve seen to date is expected whenever Congress and a new administration give banks the green light to transact with plant-touching businesses. 

“Banking will have a safe harbor, allowing cannabis companies to have greater access to capital markets,” says longtime cannabis venture capitalist Michael Gruber, managing director of Salveo Capital. This includes groundwork for companies to now list or uplift on major US exchanges like NASDAQ or NYSE.”

Gruber added that he believes New York will be the next East Coast state to go legal, followed by Connecticut and Pennsylvania. 

“Other opportunities that are more plausible this year,” says PharmaCann’s Unruh, “include expanded scientific research opportunities, better access to medical cannabis for our veterans, or maybe relief for financial institutions impacted by the failure of the federal government to acknowledge state-regulated markets.”

Liberalizing banking laws combined with improving science and the increasing mainstream acceptance of cannabis will provide more access opportunities to a new wave of consumers.

“The canna-curious user wants form factors they are used to,” explains family office investor Alex Gastevich. “Low dose edibles, capsules/tablets, and beverages that have the right cannabinoid and terpene profiles to make them approachable will have greater dispensary shelf space to capture this untapped demographic.”

No longer burdened by criminal liability and in perpetual pursuit of higher margins, big business will butt in on the bud boom.

“Consumer packaged goods and beverage collaborations, especially alcohol companies, will ramp up, says Gruber, “Along with active participation by pharma and tobacco companies, but with their public communication being more muted.”

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.