Martha Stewart attends the TIME 100 Gala celebrating its annual list of the 100 Most Influential People In The World in 2018. Picture: AFP ANGELA WEISS
Martha Stewart attends the TIME 100 Gala celebrating its annual list of the 100 Most Influential People In The World in 2018. Picture: AFP ANGELA WEISS

Toronto — The cannabis industry has added another celebrity. This time it is Martha Stewart, the 77-year-old lifestyle guru who went to prison in 2004 for lying to federal authorities in an insider-trading case

Stewart, a friend of pot connoisseur Snoop Dogg, is joining Canopy Growth as an adviser to help develop a new line of cannabis products for pets and people.

“I’m especially looking forward to collaborating on developing products that can help people and their treasured animal companions,” said Stewart.

Canopy, the world’s most valuable cannabis company, is conducting clinical trials on various cannabis compounds, including CBD, the nonintoxicating hemp component that is showing up in drinks, beauty products, food and a host of consumer products.

Vivien Azer, an analyst at Cowen & Company who tracks the cannabis industry, now thinks the CBD market could be worth $16bn in the US by 2025.

The compound is everywhere these days but not much is really known about how it works or how much people need to take to ease anxiety or insomnia. While the passage of a farm bill in December opened up the US CBD market, the Food and Drug Administration has still not given the go-ahead to use it in food products. That’s kept big companies, such as Coca-Cola, on the sidelines.

Under pressure to create CBD regulations, Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb said last week he will hold a public meeting in April on the issue.

Growing competition

We are living in strange times for medical cannabis, with growing competition between pharmaceutical companies and over-the-counter retailers, Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics said in a new report. Epidiolex, the CBD-based drug from GW Pharmaceuticals, went on sale in US pharmacies in the fourth quarter of 2018. The company hopes to sell it at an average price of $32,500 a year, given its approved use for two rare forms of childhood epilepsy.

But as Arcview editor-in-chief Tom Adams wrote in the report: “This is a drug with an active ingredient that is available not just in cannabis dispensaries in legal states, but in health-food stores, grocery stores and every kind of general retail outlet in the country at a lower cost.”

The US Food and Drug Administration has said CBD products cannot be marketed using specific health claims, but there is nothing stopping patients from buying the dosage they have been prescribed in retail stores, bypassing the costly drug route. With about 770 cannabis-related clinical trials under way in the US, it is likely many more medical patients will be looking for cheaper, over-the-counter versions of prescribed drugs in the years to come.

This may be why Arcview and BDS forecast that pharmaceutical cannabis drugs will make up less than 10% of legal cannabis product sales in 2022.

But the competition cuts both ways. For the first time, medical marijuana retailers face pharmaceutical-grade competition, setting up “one of the most consequential battles in the legal cannabis industry’s short history”, according to the report.

Weed watchers are waiting for news from New York and New Jersey, two densely populated East Coast states that are expected to legalise adult-use marijuana in 2019. 

New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, campaigned on a promise to legalise marijuana but has been squabbling with the legislature over how to tax pot. They reportedly are getting closer to an agreement to tax pot based on weight, rather than sales price.

In New York, governor Andrew Cuomo has also said he will legalise weed in 2019. Cuomo and New York mayor Bill de Blasio have laid out a plan to fix the subway system that included a proposal to use funds from a potential cannabis excise tax. In Vermont, where weed is legal but there is no retail regulations that would allow stores to open, the state senate voted to create a taxed and regulated marijuana market.

The 2020 presidential race, which is starting to heat up, is also expected to feature debate over marijuana policy. Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who has thrown his hat in the ring, introduced a bill to legalise pot last week, with co-sponsors that included four other Democratic senators who are running for president, according to the Washington Post.

It is fitting that a Canadian cannabis company would team up with a group of hockey players to see if CBD can help retired professionals deal with post-concussion brain disorders. Canopy Growth is working with the National Hockey League Players Association and Neeka Health Canada to carry out a study over the next year, enrolling 100 former players in the trial, according to a statement from the Smiths Falls, Ontario-based company.