The Future is Now
Industry leader insights for 2019
By Alex Pasquariello
At the advent of 2019, cannabis is on a hot streak and all signs indicate it will continue.
In 2018, the number of adults legally able to purchase cannabis globally grew from 17 million to more than 75 million as California and Canada launched recreational-use markets. The expansion fueled a pot stock boom, with Canada’s Cronos Group becoming the first “plant-touching” cannabis company to list on a major U.S. exchange last February and industry giants Tilray and Canopy Growth following suit soon after, the latter reaching a $5 billion valuation.
The final consumer spending data for 2018 hadn’t been tallied at press time, but if the year looks anything like 2017, the growth should be impressive: Global consumer spending on cannabis grew by 37 percent in 2017 to $9.5 billion with Americans alone contributing $8.5 billion of that spending, according to a report by research and analytics firms Arcview Group and BDS Analytics. That report predicts a tripling of consumer spending globally by 2022 to $32 billion, with U.S. spending growing to $23.4 billion.
Not surprisingly, the ongoing legalization movement and explosive industry growth is changing hearts, minds and science. The year closes with the first approval of a cannabis-based drug to treat epilepsy, politicians supporting weed after vehemently opposing it and a mammoth wave of CBD products flooding the marketplace. The most recent Pew Research Center survey found that 62 percent of Americans say the use of cannabis should be legalized, double what it was in 2000.
What does it all portend for the plant in 2019? Some industry leaders on the vanguard provide insight from cannabis in the kitchen and beyond.
Chef Sebastian Carosi
Prediction: Raw cannabis will become as ubiquitous as any superfood.
Why believe him: Carosi’s been around the block, traveling globally and working in everything from fine dining restaurants to high volume operations. He runs Bergin Hunt + Fish Club in Vancouver, Washington.
Carosi is all about “wildcrafting,” otherwise known as foraging. His enthusiasm extends to outdoor-grown cannabis, which he sees as a natural, organic superfood, best used raw. Carosi calls it “clean consumption,” ingesting cannabis as a food, not smoked or vaped, which he sees as antithetical to health and wellness.
At his Bergin Hunt + Fish Club, a private, “eco-gastronomic roving rural supper club and mobile craft cocktail bar,” Carosi serves THC and CBD-infused dishes, while also incorporating the plant in non-psychoactive pestos, greens and seeds.
He starts with this tenet: “Ingestion is the only path to natural.” Processed foods, including edibles, will continue to proliferate, but the interest in healthy ingredients shows no signs of subsiding. Same goes for the demand for organic, indigenous or landrace cannabis strains.
“We see that growth in our club’s dinners—we sell out in moments,” Carosi says. “I’m turning away hundreds for each event.”
Chef Stacy Primack
Prediction: Tasteless cannabis products with precise dosing will bring the general populace on board.
Why believe her: The author of three cookbooks, who has cooked scores of infused dinners, says she’s witnessing novice cannabis users embrace the benefits of weed for the first time. Currently a recipe developer for Pearl2o in Seattle.
Like most people who cook with cannabis, Primack was turned off by imprecisions in infusing butter and oils and then trying to ensure evenly dispersed flower in her desserts. “The pastry chef in me is obsessed with precision,” she says.
That changed when she became a recipe developer for Seattle-based cannabis tech company Tarukino, that had launched Pearl2o, a tasteless, odorless, water-based cannabis mixer that maintains its potency whether cooked, chilled or frozen.
The certainty of dosing provided by Pearl2o and similar cannabis emulsions will change the perception of cannabis through food—and advance legalization efforts nationwide, Primack says. “These new advancements in cannabis allow the food to remain the star, while the cannabis is an added component, like wine.”
Chef Scott Durrah
Prediction: Cannabis-infused ingredients will become staples.
Why believe him: He was among the first to specialize in organic, vegan and gluten-free medical edibles in Colorado, launching Simply Pure, a health-conscious edibles company, eight years ago.
As Durrah, a retired Marine who has run restaurants in California and Colorado, considers the future of cannabis, he’s sticking with his instincts and going all-in on transforming Simply Pure into a food production company. While he’s keeping his cards close to the vest on the product line, he says to expect healthy staples for your kitchen and refrigerator.
“Canada will lead the way,” he says. “Federal legalization in that country will open doors for infused food products and companies that aren’t currently open in this country because of our federal laws and because of the restrictions each state places on their respective markets.”
As the industry is maturing, consumers are gravitating to edibles, which makes sense to the chef. “Our body processes food easily—it’s natural—so, consuming cannabis though food delivers its benefits more peacefully.”
Prediction: Science may prove that cannabis might not be the panacea everyone expects.
Why believe her: Credentialed, longtime neuroscientist. Currently at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.
For Wilson-Poe, cannabis is clearly a plant with low abuse liability and high medical value. But when it comes to clinical research that supports its efficacy, “we’re standing at the edge of the Mariana Trench, peering into darkness.”
Pre-clinical research has provided a firm understanding of how delta-9 THC works with our cannabinoid receptors and in which brain regions, she explains. Her research has found that cannabis and opioids react similarly within our brains when it comes to pain relief, and she has advocated passionately for the plant as a safe alternative to opioids. But because of the massive barriers to research erected by its federally illegal status, few clinical studies show what it does in humans.
Does it also cure cancer, relieve Crohn’s disease symptoms or treat epilepsy? Those questions have not been answered by definitive studies. As legalization spreads and if the plant sheds its federal classification, clinical studies will move forward, she says.
Yet future studies may not be in line with the current zeitgeist. Wilson-Poe points to the clinical studies that earned CBD pharmaceutical Epidiolex the green light from the Food and Drug Administration to treat epilepsy. The data also showed that more than 30 percent of patients saw no improvement while the condition worsened among 5 percent of them. Cannabis also didn’t stand up to claims for treating glaucoma, she says; science has shown other drugs treat the condition much better.
Cannabis legalization, she says, “is the greatest pharmaceutical experiment in the history of humankind,” and like any experiment, the results might not be what we all expected.
Prediction: Restorative justice will win–and New York will lead the way.
Why believe him: Guerrero is the co-founder and executive director of New York’s Cannabis Cultural Alliance (CCA), a nonprofit helping marginalized and underrepresented communities participate in the legal cannabis industry. CCA is among the plaintiffs suing the federal government to end cannabis prohibition.
During the first six months of 2018, 93 percent of the 6,604 New Yorkers arrested for cannabis infractions were people of color, according to advocacy group Police Reform Organizing Project. The disparity didn’t surprise Guerrero, whose lobbying efforts have helped introduce language protecting immigrant communities in state medical cannabis legislation. CCA also has thrown its weight behind Sen. Cory Booker’s bill, which would create community reinvestment funds for communities ravaged by the war on drugs.
A federal lawsuit filed last year by CCA to decriminalize cannabis is also expected to make inroads. The plaintiffs, including an Iraq War veteran, a child with a seizure disorder and an ex-NFL player, claims that the federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance (dangerous and has no medicinal value) is so “irrational that it violates the U.S. Constitution.” Prohibition, he says, has been historically enacted and enforced in a discriminatory manner targeting populations of color, and today prevents them from participating in the legal cannabis industry.
“New York will be a beacon showing that, yes, we can get restorative justice done as we create the most vibrant cannabis market in the world.”
Prediction: Technology will change access to cannabis.
Why believe him: He’s the co-founder and CEO of Jane Technologies in Santa Cruz, California. A graduate of United States Military Academy at West Point and a fellow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management.
Rosenfeld’s startup provides dispensaries with a data-collecting digital storefront, and consumers with the ability to shop online with the convenience they’ve come to expect. However, rather than have a robot pull product out of a warehouse, Jane purchases are completed at local dispensaries.
“Cannabis will show the rest of the world that retail can be conducted at hyperlocal levels while still achieving the same efficiencies and collecting the critical data that has come to be expected from the pure online experience,” he says.
While state legal constraints currently require transactions to be completed at licensed dispensaries, Rosenfeld sees the retail landscape shifting toward the omni-channel concept. Just look at Amazon: “There’s a reason they purchased Whole Foods and are opening brick-and-mortar shops for select products—they know that people still want to go out and shop.”