The media loves “Year in review” lists during what traditionally has been a slow news period—the holidays. But, viewed in isolation, these lists tend to give an incomplete or distorted picture of the year just passed. This is especially true of very general lists like “top news stories of the year.” But it’s also true when the scope is more limited, like “the top business stories of the year,” or more limited still when it’s something like “the top cannabis stories of the year.”
I poked a bit of fun at the list-making phenomenon 17 years ago, when I quoted a person who was what back then we called a “blogger,” declaring that the end of the year is “the point where lazy editors tell their lazy pundits to knock out a couple of hundred words” in list form summing up the year. That was a bit harsh, especially given that some of the lists were pretty good.
As I noted then, it’s best not to take any of these lists as definitive, but rather to read a bunch of them. Doing so usually gives one a pretty good picture of what the year was like.
For cannabis, 2023 was a lot like the preceding several years: The beleaguered industry continued to grow even as it faced significant setbacks. Acceptance of cannabis continued to expand both legally and popularly even as it faced fierce resistance from prohibitionist types both in the federal government and at the state and local levels.
Marijuana Moment, which covers the politics of cannabis better than could possibly be expected by anyone, unsurprisingly produces a couple of the best lists related to those issues. One is devoted to federal policy, the other to states and localities. These lists hit most of the big stories, with lots of explanation and links.
The federal list includes the Biden administration advising that cannabis be reclassified as a Schedule III drug and expanding Biden’s pardon program for people convicted of cannabis crimes. It also includes the continued increase in popular support for pot legalization—now at 70%, including a majority of Republicans—and the one-step-up, five-steps-back “progress” of a whole bunch of proposed reforms, including a cannabis banking bill and, of course, legalization itself.
The state/local list is somewhat more positive, with a recounting of continued legalization efforts, most of them successful—five states and territories made weed legal in 2023, and others geared up to do so in 2024. It also includes changes to tax laws and other regulations meant to make doing business easier and less costly for legal businesses, and to make it easier to consume weed.
The trade publication MJBizDaily published a list of its “most popular” stories, which means they weren’t necessarily the most important. But the list still gives a decent snapshot of some of the business issues surrounding, or suffocating, legal weed. These include the viroid that has vexed cannabis growers and the entire industry, the ongoing battles over Delta-8 THC and the continued headaches with financial services, like Mastercard’s decision to forbid pot purchases using its cards.
The funnest list, though, comes from the Green Market Report, which ticked off what it decided were the scandals of the year. These included alleged gross corruption at Skymint that involved both bankruptcy and the CEO’s inappropriate relationship with a woman at the company, on whom he allegedly spent company funds, and the implosion of the California distributor Herbl, which left many companies without a supply channel.
It also included alleged fraud and other skeevy behavior at Cookies, and perhaps most entertainingly, the interview—not directly related to the scandal—with Cookies CEO Berner (real name: Gilbert Milam) that was published by the news/PR channel Benzinga, but which never actually took place. Massachusetts-based journalist Grant Smith Ellis thought something was odd about the Q&A and, after looking into it, discovered that the whole thing was created using artificial intelligence.
The guy who faked the interview, David Daxsen, seems like a real piece of work. He describes himself in his Twitter bio as a “Dreamer, Doer, and Achiever” who owns a company with “100+Brands with Purpose” belonging to a whole bunch of disparate industries. But he also is supposedly a “journalist,” who invests in cannabis companies, a fact that was not disclosed in the Benzinga piece. The Q&A was eventually removed from the site.
It seems likely that 2024 will be even more hopeful, frustrating and fun. Watch this space.