Guide to Starting a Commercial Cannabis Grow Operation

guide to starting a commercial cannabis operation with a tiny sprout

With total sales in Washington State reaching $1 billion since recreational cannabis was legalized in 2014, entrepreneurs from all around the world are considering an investment in American recreational cannabis production. From first-time business owners looking to capitalize on a new market to larger institutions and established organizations establishing a foothold pre-federal legalization, there’s plenty of opportunity for intrepid business ventures within the recreational cannabis market going forward. This is your guide to starting a commercial cannabis grow operation.

Frequently Asked Questions

We have compiled a list of frequently asked questions to better help guide inquiries for starting a commercial cannabis grow operation. We recommend reading the answers to our FAQs before proceeding to read the guide below.

What service does WeatherPort Shelter Systems provide?

WeatherPort custom design and engineer cannabis greenhouses for licensed growers and legal growing operations. If you are licensed and looking to start growing outdoors, please give us a call at (970) 399-5909 to discuss your growing facility requirements with a friendly greenhouse specialist. Or use our online form to send us an inquiry.

Do you provide consulting services if I want to start a commercial cannabis business?

Besides the information presented in this guide, if you have additional questions that pertain to becoming licensed or help creating a business plan, we recommend you research cannabis consulting firms in your area, or contact your state’s cannabis governing agency. They will be the best resource and able to guide you with becoming a licensed cannabis grower. When you are licensed and ready to start growing, contact us to discuss your outdoor grow facility needs.

Can you help me with drafting a cultivation operations plan?

This is not a service we provide. The information presented in this guide will provide you with a good foundation to drafting your cultivation operations plan. We recommend you research cannabis consulting firms in your area, or contact your state’s cannabis governing agency for assistance with drafting a cultivation operations plan. WeatherPort engineers and designs cannabis greenhouses for licensed growers and legal growing operations. If you would like to include the specifications for a growing facility by WeatherPort in your cultivation operations plan, please send us an inquiry using our online form.

Where do I obtain a cannabis cultivation or growers license?

Each state has its own rules and regulations for obtaining a license to legally grow and cultivate cannabis. We recommend you contact your state’s governing agency for obtaining and submitting an application to become a licensed grower.

Do you sell cannabis seeds or cannabis plants?

No. WeatherPort designs and engineers custom cannabis greenhouses for licensed growers and legal grow operations. It is the responsibility of the licensed grower or growing operation to purchase or acquire cannabis seeds and plants.

What is the price for a WeatherPort GrowPort?

Because WeatherPort custom designs and engineers cannabis greenhouses to specifically meet your growing facility requirement(s) and to meet your local building codes for safety, we do not have pricing on our website. A friendly WeatherPort greenhouse specialist will be glad to discuss your building specifications, building codes, and be able to provide pricing for you. Please call us at (970) 399-5909 or use our online form to send us an inquiry.

Can I add my own grow lights and horizontal air flow fans (HAF fans), wet wall system, etc?

Yes. WeatherPort cannabis greenhouses can be custom designed with Unistrut™ metal framing systems to support overhead lights, fans, or other growing accessories. We can also incorporate systems into our building design, like wet walls for natural cooling. Please call us at (970) 399-5909 to discuss your growing facility needs or send us an online inquiry.

Can I invest in WeatherPort Shelter Systems?

No. WeatherPort is a privately-owned business.

Commercial Greenhouse Structures

Fully automated greenhouse structures with light deprivation systems allow you to quickly build a long-lasting and multi-season grow facility for a top-quality product. See WeatherPort Shelter Systems® Cannabis Greenhouse.

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Basic Information

As with any new venture, getting started in the cannabis industry requires one thing among all other aspects: ambition. If you’re prepared to commit the majority of your time to the cannabis industry, you’ll need to be well-versed in its history as well as current events, data, and the ever-changing political climate in order to be successful.

Cannabis Industry Education and Background

The cannabis industry is changing fast, meaning information relevant to today’s sales data, legal restrictions, and best practices may become quickly irrelevant tomorrow. Full-time research and development efforts are important to any industry, but the extent to which changes in the cannabis world are occurring requires a closer eye to current news and industry reports.

Creating a Cannabis Business Plan

Creating a cannabis business plan is slightly different from that of a traditional business or initiative. Aside from typical hurdles like financing, competitive research, marketing, operations, and structure of ownership, you’ll need to closely study the state-specific cannabis regulations and ensure your business won’t run afoul of limitations placed on growers by these new laws. We recommend you research cannabis consulting firms in your area, or contact your state’s cannabis governing agency to discuss governing laws. Furthermore, cannabis producers should consider the following:

  • Security and traceability
  • Employee training and compliance standards
  • Removal of waste products
  • Transportation and logistics for retail, packaging, and processing
  • Testing capabilities and protocols
  • Accurate description of grow facility, operations planning, and production process (including equipment, soil, and fertilizers to be used)

Choosing Grow Site and Setting Up a Grow Operation

Choosing to invest in a cannabis production facility over a retail storefront makes getting things off the ground a bit easier – prospective producers are able to utilize more remote, out-of-the-way locations with greater benefits to security, logistics, and future expansions. There are restrictions under current state laws that keep producers from opening grow facilities away from public schools, parks, transit centers, libraries, or arcades that cater to minors.

commercial cannabis greenhouse infographic

Outdoor Growing Facilities

In Washington State, outdoor cannabis production facilities must be established in an open expanse enclosed by a physical barrier or a sight obscure wall at least eight feet high. In Colorado, producers are prohibited from growing cannabis outside of a secured, enclosed location – including high fences and semi-permeable roofing.

Fortunately, the climate of the Pacific Northwest lends itself very well to outdoor cannabis production. In fact, some rural areas of Washington and Oregon with agricultural backgrounds have found cannabis to be an easy to maintain, financially lucrative cash crop. Because cannabis roots can expand exponentially, outdoor growers can reap a far greater harvest by allowing their plants to grow to 10 feet tall or higher, uninhibited by artificial lighting or ceilings. Cannabis makes an excellent cover crop, allowing ample space on the surface for smaller crops like tomatoes, carrots, and lettuce to grow with an extra layer of protection above.

If your local climate and state restrictions allow for outdoor cannabis production, you’ll be rewarded with a product that can only be achieved through Mother Nature’s guidance, but as any farmer will tell you, their livelihood lives and dies by her hand. Just as susceptible to pests, inclement weather, and drought as any other cash crop, cannabis is a fickle plant as well as a lucrative one. In such an unpredictable and burgeoning market, it’s crucial that early entrants into the cannabis industry choose caution when determining whether they want to invest in a controlled indoor production facility or a riskier endeavor outdoors.

Indoor Growing Facilities

Indoor cannabis grow facilities must be in an enclosed and secured facility with functional windows, doors, rigid or semi-rigid walls and a roof.

Running a successful commercial cannabis grow operation is an expensive challenge. While growers can maintain a higher level of control over humidity, available light, and pests in an indoor environment, maintaining proper light levels and staying as energy-efficient as possible are top priorities for commercial cannabis production operations.

Space, Basic Infrastructure, and Soil for Cannabis Production

Whether you’re a first-time grower or experienced in the art of growing cannabis, you’ll need one thing above all else: space. You can grow a handful of plants in a 5′ by 10′ grow tent, but those looking to make a splash in the cannabis industry should consider a professional cannabis grow facility to ensure top-quality product and consistency in production.

The most important consideration in evaluating a potential grow space is ensuring proper ventilation for your crops. Cannabis plants require a lot of light, which typically emit a tremendous amount of heat. Without proper ventilation and air exchange, producers risk cooking their crop or limiting yields due to excess humidity, heat, or oxygen. Greenhouse-specific HVAC systems exist for closed greenhouse schemes and help producers program hyper-accurate climate control systems to ensure the facility maintains ideal growth conditions.

As far as potting each individual plant goes, allow for at least a 5 gallon pot for each cannabis plant. Cannabis roots expand very quickly and require a lot of room, therefore, smaller receptacles will result in smaller yields. Grow bags are also widely used in the cannabis production industry, placing them on a permeable table with trays or tarps to collect water runoff.

If you choose any aspect of your cannabis grow operation more carefully than others, let it be the soil. The grow medium is an essential aspect of growing any crop, but the quality of soil can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of the final flower. You’ll also want to carefully monitor the pH levels of your soil, as cannabis plants prefer pH environments of 5.5-6.5.

While some high-end growers are switching to permeable concrete to facilitate natural water recycling, it’s not a bad idea to use wooden pallets or plastic, grated platforms as the floor of your grow tent to help with runoff or collect for recycling.

Lighting and Electrical

Costs of electricity is the number one expense facing producers and often matches or exceeds total lease costs per month during production.

Artificial lighting, dehumidification, ventilation, air conditioning, and irrigation control systems all require immense amounts of electricity, leading some growers to investigate energy-efficiency options like the following:

HPS Grow Lights vs. LED Grow Lights

There’s much debate in the world of artificial lighting for cannabis greenhouses, but studies have shown HPS – or High Pressure Sodium – lights provide a more consistent form of lighting for indoor grow facilities.

According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, 20-year projections on electrical use in both Washington and Colorado throughout the indoor cannabis production industry suggest an average annual usage of 185-300 megawatts. That’s equivalent to the annual electrical use of more than 200,000 homes in the United States.

That said, no forward-thinking cannabis entrepreneur should overlook energy-efficiency standards in initial constructions. An estimated 2% of Denver’s annual energy usage went toward cannabis production facilities in 2014; projections for energy usage among states nearing legalization (including California, Nevada, and Maine) are unquestionably unsustainable. An estimated 1% of the energy usage in the United States, equating to $6 billion in annual operating costs, goes toward cannabis grow facilities – legal and otherwise.

We recommend three future-proofed upgrades for cannabis production facilities of any size:

  1. Invest in Solar

    Solar energy is becoming increasingly affordable – especially at larger and more significant scales. Colorado, presumably spurred by the initial successes and yet substantial energy costs of its early recreational cannabis industry, has pledged to generate more than 30 percent of its electricity from reusable and renewable sources by 2020.

    In cannabis-laden Boulder, Colorado, the city has implemented a licensing solution that requires growers to use energy monitoring devices as well as paying a fee for carbon emissions, adopting renewable energy sources, or purchasing energy credits. And it’s been predicted that the cannabis legalization movement will help spur innovation and more widespread adoption of energy-efficiency solutions in general.

  2. Recycle Water and Collect Rainwater

    Already considered a success in achieving water-saving status in the UK brewing industry, some cannabis producers are investing in closed-circuit desalination (CCD), reverse osmosis water systems. At the same time as purifying incoming municipal water sources, these CCD systems can recover as much as 97% of wastewater, therefore reducing water demand and saving in disposal fees.

    Smaller producers in rainy climates such as Oregon and Washington are investing in rainwater collection and storage capabilities to save on irrigation costs. Because a single cannabis plant can use as much as 22.7 liters of water per day and many cannabis outdoor growing seasons conflict with periods of low-precipitation, outdoor growers and those who rely on rainwater capture without long-term storage solutions won’t find much benefit in a recyclable water investment.

    While it remains an industry on the verge of wider adoption, commercial and large-scale rainwater collection and storage efforts are already in effect around the world. More than 750 buildings in Tokyo, Japan are outfitted for long-term rainwater collection and storage for landscaping uses. Thrifty cannabis producers would do kindly to invest in early rainwater adoption solutions in order to negate irrigation costs and avoid shortages due to droughts or supply demands into the future.

  3. Consider an Energy-Efficient Greenhouse Designed for Cannabis Production

    According to Confluence Denver, producers who opt for an energy efficient greenhouse facility pay about half the costs of those who grow in a warehouse. The importance in selecting a functional, sustainable grow facility early in the life of your recreational or medical cannabis business is monumental. Recent investigations show a direct correlation between sustainable building and operations standard and profit margins on large-scale facilities, meaning larger producers and distributors may be in a more strategically beneficial market position should federal legalization occur.

    There are already private projects invested in researching the most affordable methods of growing and distributing recreational cannabis in the U.S. An effort to evaluate the cannabis industry’s LED lighting requirements and help improve efficiency estimates the best and most valuable techniques for optimization are not yet public – thanks largely to the “behind closed doors” nature of the industry from a historical perspective. But early reports from first-generation growers in Colorado and Washington suggest that those invested in sustainable energy solutions benefited most from sales in the first fiscal year of legalization, whereas those growing in indoor warehouses made up about one-third of the industry’s first year of legal energy consumption.

    Especially due to Colorado’s restrictions on outdoor cannabis cultivation, it’s hard to argue for any indoor grow solution outside of a covered, controlled greenhouse facility.

Security and Compliance for Cannabis Production

In a market estimated to reach between $20-35 billion by 2020, security and compliance with state regulations is critical to success in the recreational cannabis world. Producers need to account for a highly-prized cash crop, but also the cash-only nature of the current, state-level restricted recreational cannabis industry. Because employees are also at risk, investigating comprehensive and sophisticated cannabis security solutions is highly recommended for growers of every size. Some security and compliance firms boast growth rates between 300-400% since legalization in Colorado and Washington.

In Washington, state laws require the following minimum security solutions for all cannabis licensees:

  • Comprehensive identification system that includes the authorized person’s’ full legal name and photograph.
  • Non-Employee, non-customer visitors must hold and display an identification badge and log their time of arrival, departure, and purpose of visit in a record that’s preserved for a period of three years.
  • A security alarm system that covers all points of entry and perimeter windows. While not required, the state advises utilization of motion detectors, pressure switches, duress and panic buttons, and hold-up alarms.
  • A complete surveillance system that includes a storage device and internet protocol (IP) compatible. Technical requirements include a minimum resolution of 640 x 470 pixels, 10 frames a second recording rate, and 24-hour continuous operation. Furthermore, the storage device must be secured on-premises using a strong box or locked cabinet to prevent against tampering or theft. All video surveillance footage must be stored for a period of 45 days and accessible to law enforcement or state licensing officials upon request.
  • Video surveillance cameras should be positioned to achieve easy and uninhibited view of any person approaching or leaving the premises as well as within view of all POS areas, perimeter entrances/exits, grow facilities, processing rooms, and distribution areas. Furthermore, all cannabis products must be placed in a quarantined storage area for 24 hours prior to transportation to another licensed facility.
  • Cannabis producers and licensees must adhere to a strict product tracking system that ranges from seed to sale. State requirements vary between jurisdictions, but it is expected that most recreational markets to expand into the future will follow a similar example as Washington and Colorado.

Choosing and Promoting Cannabis Products

There are plenty of ways to legally acquire high quality cannabis seeds, you’ll want to carefully consider what strains to select and how your products will match up with what’s already available on the market.

As far as bestsellers go, there’s not a lot of strain-specific sales data available, but since most cannabis seeds are sourced from the Netherlands, it’s not difficult to find information about the best-reviewed and most popular strains.

In 2016, the difference between many strains of the same name may be night and day. Recent reports post-legalization in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado have shone a brighter light on the actual genealogy – and even the classification between indica and sativa products – that may be entirely mislabeled or incorrect at the outset.

This is a troubling insight for those who depend on cannabis for medicinal purposes. Because individuals may not receive the intended reaction to treat their medical condition as a result of consuming improperly labelled cannabis products.

Seeds or Clones to Start Your Cannabis Grow Operation?

There are distinct advantages to choosing either format to begin your cannabis grow operation, but whether you opt for cannabis seeds or clones of feminized plants, you’ll want to carefully investigate both the quality and origin of both as well as the capabilities of your master grower.

Seeds allow a grower complete control over the entire growth cycle, but the process takes longer as a result. Getting clones from another grower will speed up the process, but leaves the plants susceptible to mold, disease, or shock if replanting is required.

There are three types of cannabis seeds a first-time producer can purchase: feminized seeds, regular seeds, and autoflower seeds.

Feminized seeds are widely preferred in recreational cannabis businesses due to the plants being specifically bred to only produce bountiful female plants. Feminized seeds run a bit higher than regular and autoflowering seeds, but the advantage is best seen in the producer’s ability to only grow female plants and avoid wasting time growing male plants.

Regular seeds are cheaper and more reliable than other types of seeds, but be aware that half of your crop will be male cannabis plants and will therefore not flower, requiring removal from your grow room before pollination.

Auto-flowering seeds begin to flower on their own – no adjustments to light cycles necessary. These plants tend to be smaller as a result, but yields are comparable to those of regular and feminized seeds.

The first rule of choosing a cannabis clone for the basis of your grow operation is to ensure the plant intended for cloning was taken from a female plant. Clone dispensaries and resources often sell individual clone plants from $10-15 each that have already been cut, cured, and allowed to root. This can be advantageous to a quick and rapid growth cycle, cutting 2-3 weeks off your initial production time. However, clones are susceptible to mold and pests, so be sure to check the root system of the clone before your make a purchase to look for signs of infestation.

As far as choosing which strains to sell, it’s really up to your company’s preferences and access to clones or seeds. The heavy-hitters in the cannabis market include names like Blue Dream, Girl Scout Cookies, Pineapple Express among others, so looking for more specific and unique strains to help diversify your product offerings will improve and expand your market potential going forward.

Budgeting and Financing Cannabis Business Ventures

As true historically as it is today, major financial institutions are averse to lending money to cannabis-based initiatives and business ventures. Under FDIC insurance rules, banks can lose their protection under federal law by taking on “existential” risks – including investment in companies who are technically violating federal law. Thankfully, more and more financial institutions are beginning to make investments in cannabis companies who support and service producers and retailers, but don’t necessarily have direct contact with the products themselves.

In the interim, private investors have filled the void where traditional funding options would usually exist. Venture capital, private equity funding, angel investors, private lenders, and cannabis business consulting firms that invest in cannabis ventures.

While specific terms and restrictions vary from lender to lender, the basic requirements for securing a cannabis-related business loan are as follows:

  • Incorporate your organization
  • Maintain a business bank account
  • Have at least 6 months of steady operations
  • Have monthly gross sales of at least $10,000
  • Keep your credit score above 500

Energy Cost and Upkeep of Producing Cannabis

This is a major sticking point for potential cannabis producers. Costs of electricity is the number one expense facing producers and often matches or exceeds total lease costs per month during production.

cannabis industry stats for energy use

State by State Cannabis Policies and Where Marijuana is Legal

States Where Cannabis is Legal

state of alaska


Alaska originally legalized the private, in-home personal use of cannabis in 1975 before a voter initiative reversed that decision in 1991. In 2014, voters in the state approved Ballot Measure 2, a measure that officially legalized production, distribution, and sale of cannabis products which took effect early in the following year.

While the 48th most populous state is known for its major industries, it’s not expected that cannabis in Alaska will reach levels of success on-par with those markets already in operation – neither will cannabis tourism, or interstate travel with the goal of trying cannabis products in nearby states.

Thankfully, applications for cannabis establishments are still open in Alaska and the market, while predicted to be smaller than Colorado and Washington at the outset, should be lucrative for early investors. Within the first 12 months of operations, the recreational cannabis market is expected to reach between $25-50 million in total sales.

state of california


California officially legalized the sale of recreational cannabis on January 1, 2018.

However, the first state to legalize medical marijuana didn’t have a smooth road to recreational sales. Without a cohesive strategy to regulate and control the medical marijuana industry, the resulting marketplace caused logistics and legal issues for county and city officials throughout the state. Governor Jerry Brown signed three key pieces of medical marijuana reform into law in 2016, strengthening the push toward full legalization ahead of the November vote to follow.

The impact of the nation’s most populous state legalizing cannabis may prove a windfall for efforts to expand legislation to the federal level. While the efforts to curb violence related to Mexico’s drug cartels along the California/Mexico border may not be as substantial as some advocates would hope, legalizing recreational cannabis in California has been a significant step toward federal legalization and expanded efforts to reform U.S. drug policy. However, the recent rescinding of three key cannabis decriminalizing memos by Attorney General Jeff Sessions certainly casts looming uncertainty.

state of colorado


With prosperous cannabis sales of over 1 billion in 2016, Colorado cannabis is neck-and-neck with Washington State as far as consumption habits and general sales, but the first state to legalize recreational cannabis is also serving as the testbed for future markets.

The big takeaway for fellow sleepy frontier communities hit hard by economic decline should be the vast and varied successes of sales tax distribution from the cannabis industry. While not all residents of Colorado approve of cannabis legalization, the results of creating this new industry have been promising for smaller, rural communities especially. The Denver metro area is home to 85% of the state’s recreational cannabis stores, but sales tax to the general state fund have helped build roads, fund scholarships, and fight homelessness across Colorado.

In addition, neighboring states with long histories of agriculture may look to Colorado for inspiration should legalization come their way. Companies operating in the likes of Montana, Arizona, and New Mexico, which already have medical marijuana initiatives in place, may be in prime position to convert or expand their efforts to recreational purposes once legislation passes.

Industry-wide, a major impact on edible production and how states will work to regulate cannabis consumables in the future recently went into effect in Colorado. The state recently introduced a new mandatory warning label system that places an identifying emblem on the actual products themselves – not just packaging. This is predicted to drive up the costs for producers of edible products by a significant amount, as the change must come in the production process. Should other states implement a similar labelling process, new producers may opt for flower and oil production over edibles and beverages.

In June 2017, Governor Hickenlooper signed a handful of cannabis-related bills into Colorado law. Here are a few that pertain to the operation of a cannabis business:

    • HB 17-1220: This bill limits residential cannabis production to 16 plants unless given special permission by the local jurisdiction. Criminal penalties associated with this new law took effect in January 2018. The first offense receives a fine of up to $1,000. A second offense is a felony — level four for less than 30 plants, and level three for more than 30 plants.
    • HB 17-1034: This bill gives medical cannabis licensees the ability to relocate their businesses anywhere in the state after approval by state and local jurisdictions. Before this bill was signed, medical cannabis licensees were limited to moving their businesses within the city or county where the license was issued.
  • HB 17-1203: This bill allows counties and municipalities to place a special tax on retail cannabis products, in addition to the current sales tax that is imposed at the state and county level. The bill has some caveats, though: Counties can only impose these special taxes in unincorporated areas within the county. If a municipality already imposes a special tax, the county cannot also impose one. Additionally, any special taxes must be voter-approved.
state of massachusetts


Massachusetts became the first state on the east coast to legalize marijuana. Question 4 appeared on the 2016 ballot and passed with 53.66% of the vote.

The initiative allows users 21 and over to use and possess up to an ounce of marijuana in public and 10 ounces at home. Users can also have up to six plants and landlords cannot stop residents from growing personal plants.

Though the law went into effect in December 2016, it wasn’t until July 2018 that recreational cannabis shops were allowed to open. This delay was due to the time that legislators needed to develop regulatory laws for recreational use.

state of oregon


Among the highest percentage states by cannabis consumption, it’s stunning that Oregon wasn’t the first to legalize cannabis sales. It was the first to decriminalize cannabis possession in 1973 and the state made a push for full legalization way back in 1986, but 2014’s initiative position pushed it across the finish line.

Long deemed the nation’s largest producer of cannabis due to the region’s mild climate and proximity to California, Oregon is currently the tenth largest producing cannabis state and the fourth largest indoor growing state. With legalization still squarely visible in the rear-view mirror, the opportunity for first-time growers and second-generation producers from existing markets to establish a foothold in this jewel of the Pacific Northwest. Plus, licensing for producers, processors, and retailers in Oregon are still open, which could reduce the initial cost of setting up shop compared to a more established market like Colorado or Washington.

state of washington


The state of recreational cannabis in Washington is in place to serve as a guidepost for emerging and future markets. The ability to grow, possess, and distribute cannabis products hasn’t been an easy one, with some county and local governments placing ordinances against the state Initiative 502 that effectively legalized recreational cannabis in 2012.

The initial restrictions set in place by the State of Washington Liquor and Cannabis Control Board regarding the number of licenses remains: no additional licenses for producers or distributors will be available through the state for the foreseeable future. However, private sales on existing licenses are beginning to become more common as the market has stabilized and expectations for continued revenue growth have aligned with nearly two years of financial data. As of July 2016, dispensaries in Washington topped $1 billion in total sales and bringing in a total $250 million in state excise taxes.

Looking forward, the Washington State Department of Agriculture has officially proposed hiring a new cannabis regulator who would oversee a program to certify organic cannabis products within the state. This would likely spur the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board to issue organic-only licenses for new producers, though those details have yet to be defined.

map of district of columbia

Washington, D.C.

As of February 2015, possession of cannabis became legal in the nation’s capitol for adults aged 21 or older, but District voters were not able to push for a fully-fledged recreational market as initially intended. As a result, residents of D.C. are able to cultivate their own cannabis plants and imbibe on private property, as well as transfer cannabis, without exchange of money, goods, or services (gift) to any adult over the age of 21.

Because it’s the home of the federal government, which currently views cannabis in the same light as Schedule I Substances like heroin, it’s unlikely that full legalization will occur until federal laws allow for the controlled sale and distribution of cannabis products.

In addition, the D.C. City Council must submit the city’s operating budget to Congress for approval. Legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis may jeopardize negotiations with federal elected officials, leaving D.C. residents on their own to supply and source their cannabis.

cannabis market statistics graphic

States That Recently Legalized Cannabis

illustration of utah


Medical marijuana will be on the November 2018 ballot in Utah, after opponents of legalization dropped their lawsuit in June. Though the state has a large population of  Mormons who oppose use of alcohol or drugs, 75 percent of voters say they will vote in favor of the initiative.

Update: Utah voters passed Proposition 1 in the November 2018 election, approving medical marijuana, but the state will be enacting an alternative law. Stakeholders on both sides of the issue reached this compromise in October to ensure some sort of medical marijuana provision, regardless of the vote.

The state’s version will alter some of the details allowed in the ballot measure, including removal of the home cultivation provision and a reduction in dispensaries and qualifying medical conditions.

state of nevada


Along with California and two other states, Nevada voted to legalize recreational cannabis in 2016 and the resulting measures took effect the following year. On par with past markets, the initial recreational license application was open only to medical marijuana dispensaries in good standing. Projections for open recreational market applications are as soon as October 2018 and as late as July 2019. With stunning early sales and a positive outlook, this may be a new grower’s best bet.

state of maine


Maine became one of the first states on the east coast to legalize marijuana. Question 1 appeared on the 2016 ballot, and passed by a small margin with 50.26% of the vote. The opposition demanded a recount, but scrapped it due to cost and no major differences in voting distribution.

Prior to statewide legalization, several cities in Maine (including populous Portland, South Portland, and Lewiston) have already legalized possession and use of cannabis by adults within city limits.

The initiative permits users 21 and over to have up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and 6 mature plants. It’s also the first state to allow “social clubs” for cannabis to allow users to consume retail recreational products on premises.

Restrictions apply, of course. Visitors to cannabis social clubs must use products there and not transport them off the property. Likewise, retail stores cannot allow patrons to open and consume their purchases within the store. Cannabis users would also be unable to use off-site cannabis at social clubs. Facilities can open as soon as February 2018.

illustration of vermont


Vermont is the newest addition to the growing list of states that have legalized recreational cannabis. As of July 1, 2018, adults over the age of 21 can possess up to one ounce of cannabis, and grow two mature and four immature plants in their home. The plants must be screened from public view and only those over 21 can have access. Tenants who are renting need to get permission from their landlord to grow at home, however, landlords are not required to grant permission, if they choose to ban growing operations on their property, the tenant must comply.

state of michigan


Michigan’s relationship with cannabis has been contentious since medical marijuana laws were passed in 2008, but the two initiatives to legalize cannabis this year each show promise. Because the state legislature constantly revises regulations around medical marijuana, operators are forced to stay in business at the ever-present risk of prosecution.

While medical marijuana is still available for residents, an initiative to legalize recreational use was unable to get on the 2016 ballot.

Update: Proponents recently collected enough signatures to get legalization of recreational cannabis on the November 2018 ballot. According to recent polls, 61 percent of voters will vote yes on this measure.

Update: In November 2018, Michigan became the tenth state in the U.S. to legalize recreational cannabis. Proposition 1 garnered 55.9 percent of the vote, and legalizes the possession and cultivation of cannabis by adults 21 years and over. The first retail businesses will likely be open by 2020.

missouri state


Missouri is a longshot for those considering an entrance to a legal cannabis market. The state is without a medical marijuana program or cannabis advocates in the state or executive legislature, making legalization a considerable longshot for hopeful Missourians. While the state’s efforts to legalize CBD cannabis extracts for people suffering from epilepsy and seizures, it’s not a patient-friendly environment. Only two non-profit organizations are permitted to produce and distribute cannabis oil in Missouri, meaning a network of capable and experienced growers isn’t likely to emerge very soon.

New Approach Missouri, the campaign to legalize medical marijuana, gathered enough signatures to get an initiative on the November 2018 ballot. It’s not a sure thing yet, though, as they are currently awaiting confirmation that it will be up for vote this year.

Update: In November 2018, voters in Missouri passed Amendment 2, the state constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis. The new law allows patients who qualify and receive physician approval to grow up to six marijuana plants, buy 4 ounces of dried marijuana, and possess a 60-day supply of dried marijuana. Doctors can prescribe medical marijuana for any condition they feel merits this treatment. Revenue from sales tax will go to veterans’ services.

On June 4, 2019, Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services will make applications for patient cards and businesses available; it will begin accepting them starting July 4, 2019.

Missouri officials have not come to a consensus on whether medical marijuana users will be denied state jobs or welfare benefits.

Missouri voters did not approve the other two cannabis initiatives on the November 2018 ballot — Amendment 2 and Proposition C — which were also medical marijuana initiatives but with slightly different details concerning possession amounts and tax revenue distribution.

illustration of oklahoma


Oklahoma voters passed State Question 788 in June 2018, legalizing medical marijuana. The winds of change are blowing through this red state, as they are one of the few that allow doctors to recommend cannabis for any medical condition deemed appropriate. Other states’ medical marijuana laws only allow its recommendation for specific diseases.

Some changes to this law may be enacted, however, as Governor Fallin worries that this law has, in essence, legalized recreational use. Only time will tell how this particular case turns out.

grey canadian flag


Our neighbor to the north has legalized the sale of some forms of recreational cannabis. Starting on October 17, 2018, it will be legal for those over the age of 18 to buy fresh or dried cannabis, cannabis oil, and seeds or starts for cultivation. As of now, edibles are not legal, but that is planned for later. The exporting and importing of cannabis is illegal, with the exception of medical and scientific use, which will require a permit.

The law allows people to grow up to four plants on their property, but plans are in place to license larger growing operations, with limits. “Micro” growers with crops no larger than 200 square meters, or about 2,150 square feet, may be licensed. Limits on possession, growing, age and legal use areas can be set by individual provinces.

Canada drafted rules for the packaging of cannabis even before the law passed. Legal cannabis products in Canada must have plain packages with only health warnings and one brand marking allowed.

States Considering Legal Cannabis

state of arizona


Full legalization of cannabis took a hit in Arizona. Proposition 205 would have allowed people 21 and over to use marijuana recreationally. The measure also permitted users to grow up to 6 plants. Although the proposition would apply 80% of tax revenue from sales to school districts and charter schools within Arizona, it failed. The ballot had 51.32% voting no on the proposition.

While it remains illegal for Arizona residents to use recreational marijuana, prior propositions 200 and 203 are still in effect. The measures allow people with certain conditions to have marijuana for medicinal use.

state of connecticut


The table appears set for legalization in Connecticut, with a successful medical marijuana program launched in 2012 and a positive outlook at several polls. Furthermore, law enforcement in Connecticut is already preparing for cannabis legalization and prepping officers to better identify and test for levels of THC in drivers.

state of rhode island

Rhode Island

Rhode Island topped Colorado, Washington, and every other state in the union for highest percentage of cannabis users saying they’ve consumed cannabis within the last month – for two years running.

That doesn’t mean legalization is a sure bet for the tiny Northeastern state. Legislation pushed in 2015 failed to take root and while polling data looks promising, 2016 may not be the year the Ocean State fully legalizes.

States That Have Not Legalized Cannabis

state of delaware


There’s only a single medical marijuana dispensary in operation in Delaware and just 700 patients registered under current requirement, leaving prospects for recreational legalization gloomy at best. While Governor Jack Markell did indeed sign a decriminalization bill late 2015, statewide legalization has yet to happen.

state of maryland


Maryland is making a serious effort toward implementing an effective medical marijuana market, but unless state legislation introduced last year finds a ground well of support among lawmakers, a recreational market in Maryland may have to wait. More than 50 percent of residents support statewide legalization, but it’s likely that the state will support a recreational market before its medical marijuana business gets things rolling first.

state of new york

New York

The State of New York is preparing a significant push toward implementing a medical marijuana program, but the pressure exerted on the just five licensed producers to grow and sell enough product by January could prompt a delay in achieving full legalization statewide.

In June, New York moved to seal the records of low-level drug convictions in order to improve the circumstances of those affected by more than 40 years of “hyper-criminalization.” While this signals a softening toward general attitudes toward cannabis, the path to recreational cannabis remains squarely through a successful deployment of a medical marijuana program.

illustration of south dekota

South Dakota

The “Coyote State” gathered more than the required number of signatures to get on the ballot, but Secretary of State Shantel Krebs rejected the petitions because not all the signatures were valid.

South Dakota is the only state to make it illegal to test positive for cannabinoids even if the drug was consumed in a state where it is legal. This “internal possession” law carries a stiff penalty of a year in jail and a $2,000 fine to boot.

Prospects for Legalization at the Federal Level

Despite several bills introduced to both houses of Congress, the path to federal legalization continues to be at a state-by-state level. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, introduced by former presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, currently shows a 1% chance of being enacted according to

Update: The bill introduced by Sen. Sanders in 2015 was not enacted. The newer H.R. 1227 was introduced to Congress in February 2017, but it has not made any progress since then. The bill, introduced by Virginia Rep. Thomas Garrett, is awaiting committee review and debate and is not predicted to pass to the House.  

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