Yet another turbulent but victory-filled 12 months for many in the cannabis trade is behind us, and plenty of business leaders are ready to focus on 2024.
“The forthcoming year will be the most exciting ever in the industry,” said Morgan Paxhia, co-founder and managing director of Poseidon Investment Management.
The overarching theme heading into 2024 is opportunity, with plenty of operators and observers expressing hope for more expansion, both into upcoming new markets and in established states that may become more stable following the financial boon of rescheduling.
The industry has been anxiously watching Washington, D.C., after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services formally recommended rescheduling cannabis in August.
“I foresee the federal government reclassifying cannabis, rescheduled as a Schedule III controlled substance, on April 20, 2024,” Paxhia said.
That move alone could boost operator by ushering in “a new wave of liquidity” and “a surge in M&A activity,” according to Paxhia.
It’s a potential also heralded by cannabis operators, like Ed Schmults, CEO of California-based StateHouse Holdings.
“The HHS recommendation to reschedule cannabis to Schedule 3 was some welcome news, although about a decade late unfortunately,” Schmults said. “… Schedule 3 will be a big step in the right direction, though outright de-scheduling is a far cleaner path for the cannabis industry.”
But rescheduling isn’t the only federal reform expected in 2024. Paxhia believes that “hemp-derived Delta-9 THC products and other naturally occurring intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoids will be forced into regulated channels, closing the Farm Bill loophole.”
What the industry won’t see, however, is progress on the SAFER Banking Act, he said.
“Instead a Garland Memo-like protection will be introduced alongside Schedule III in response to the Boise Schiller Flexnor lawsuit against Attorney General Merrick Garland on behalf of several cannabis companies, creating enthusiasm throughout the industry,” Paxhia predicted.
But federal reform isn’t exclusive to the United States. Germany is also poised to move forward with legalization.
“Germany will become the largest market for adult cannabis with the passage of its decriminalization bill,” said Lewis Koski, chief strategy officer of Metrc.
While the country experienced some setbacks with regard to that legalization throughout 2023, Koski expects it to “take material steps towards providing commercialized cannabis to adult cannabis consumers through nonprofit social clubs earlier in the year, and regional model projects later in the year.”
A Return to Expansion
“2024 is a presidential year, and those years have been pretty good for the expansion of cannabis legalization within the states,” Koski said. “To the extent there are still states where the electorate can make the call on legalization, we might see a few more states put legalization on the ballot.
“Any movement to expand or legitimize legalization could yield positive results economically for an industry that has felt the impacts of an uncertain economy,” he added.
In addition, as new markets, such as Ohio, come online and existing medical markets, such as Pennsylvania and Florida, toy with embracing adult use, “you all may see certain multistate operators become a bit more aggressive in their expansion once again,” David Goubert, president and CEO of Ayr Wellness, said.
But, he warns, that likely won’t happen until the end of the year.
Even with the optimistic outlook for new and expanded markets, the cannabis industry will still face significant headwinds in 2024.
“California continues to be a challenging environment to operate within. … Taxation is still a disaster,” Schmults said.
And New York still has several hurdles to overcome in the year ahead to get its adult-use market functional, according to Sasha Nutgent, retail manager of Housing Works Cannabis Co. in New York City.
“So many folks have been patiently waiting for their opportunity to open, and lawsuits and injunctions got in their way,” she said. “I hope this can be resolved in 2024.”
But to get there, operators will need to focus on “the financial health of their companies, prioritizing cash flow generation and fostering leaner, more efficient operations,” Goubert said.
“These leaner, more efficient companies will be in a better position to expand once again,” he added.
That focus on strengthening the operational foundation will help cannabis companies thrive – and that has cannabis executives excited about the next 12 months.
“I am optimistic about the opportunities that lie ahead in 2024,” said Ben Kovler, CEO of Green Thumb Industries. “Our long-term strategy (is) creating brands and products that resonate with the consumer, remaining disciplined with our capital allocation, and driving growth that generates cash flow positions us to continue investing in the business in 2024.”