Jan. 22 was a breakthrough day in the cannabis business as Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed into law a bill legalizing marijuana use, marking the ninth state to allow recreational cannabis use by adults. What makes this so significant is the way Vermont did it: through the state legislative process. And it represents a tipping point for the normalization of cannabis use.
Up until now, every move to ease U.S. cannabis laws has been driven by constituents at the polls. Which is no great surprise. A Gallup poll released in October 2017 reported 64% of respondents support the legalization of marijuana, up from 48% in 2012. It was the first time Gallup found a majority of Republicans — 51% — in support of cannabis legalization; 72% percent of Democrats support legalization.
Still, federal lawmakers continue to fumble, reluctant to follow the states’ lead and their constituents’ wishes. The explanation is in the numbers. There’s a huge generational gap between America’s representatives and the represented. According to the website LegiStorm, the average age of a U.S. senator is 63, and 59 for a U.S. representative. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has threatened to go after state-approved cannabis operations, is 71.
Meanwhile, the median age of the American population is 38.
The Vermont Legislature delivered normalization proponents a threshold moment. Much like the same-sex marriage movement over the past two decades, the pro-cannabis movement has momentum on its side. And while there will certainly be obstacles along the way, there will be no turning back.
But the beneficiaries of marijuana legalization extend far beyond users and tax revenue. A direct line can be drawn between investments in the burgeoning cannabis industry and lower food prices globally in the future. And the vehicle that will get us there will be indoor farming.
Huge investments are being made in indoor cannabis cultivation, particularly in California and Canada, as investors and entrepreneurs enter the Green Rush. The potential reward is considerable.
Bryan, Garnier and Co., an investment bank, recently released a detailed analysis predicting that the global legal cannabis market will grow by 1,000%, to $140 billion by 2027. Research firms have put the legal global market at around $14 billion in 2016.
Legal cannabis businesses have ignited an economy-of-scale investment firefight. Innovative entrepreneurs are striving for anything to get a leg up on the competition. And as the cannabis market grows to hundreds of billions of dollars, vertical farming benefits, driving accelerated investment and innovation in this precision indoor method of farming.
And though cannabis may be the driving force, the innovations will advance all indoor and vertical agriculture — not just the marijuana trade.
As a result, the U.S. vertical indoor farming market, valued at less than $1 billion in 2016, is expected to reach $10 billion-plus by 2025, according to recent research reports. Globally, this number could be huge with the potential to replace food deserts with unlimited food quality on demand.
To get a sense of the potential, consider “Cuello’s Law.” Similar to the iconic “Moore’s Law” of 1965 — which accurately predicted a doubling each year in the number of components squeezed onto an integrated circuit — Cuello’s Law proposed a similar trend for indoor farm crops.
According to University of Arizona professor Joel Cuello, for every five years over the coming decades, technically dense vertical farms will achieve a doubling of crop production. The commercial produce output will increase by more than 100% in 20 years if Cuello’s law holds true. Cannabis guarantees this result and more.
So as businesses chase the global cannabis dollars, the same evolving, advanced indoor farming methods and technologies they rely on to maximize profits will also be adopted for growing produce to put on our tables. This precision indoor farming will bring greater volume and quality, and — thanks to the law of supply and demand — lower cost.
By 2028, indoor farming will account for 15% to 25% of U.S. produce production. An increasing amount of produce will be grown 365 days per year across the U.S. by local suppliers. Unlimited choice and a radical change are coming.
It may take a while to get there, but when it comes, don’t forget to give a nod to the Vermont Legislature for legalizing cannabis and putting dollars back in your pocket during your grocery run.
Phil Gibson is vice president of marketing at AEssenseGrows (www.aessensegrows.com), a precision sensor and software technology company specializing in fully automated aeroponic platforms for indoor plant production. He has 30 years of sales, marketing and channel experience and created the WEBENCH online design environment now owned by Texas Instruments.