Amid the stock market volatility, turn to the stability of the marijuana market


An employee collects money while holding packages of marijuana at Top Shelf Cannabis, a retail marijuana store Bellingham, Washington.

With the stock market volatility of the last week, it’s difficult to know which industries will weather the storm. However, there’s one potential way to stay in the green.

As marijuana shifts into the legal market state by state, analysts and industry professionals expect it to be mostly immune to economic downturns. With both medicinal and recreational uses, the cannabis market has been compared to alcohol, tobacco and coffee in terms of resilience to stock market recessions.

“During these times of economic collapse, you have a product that’s quasi medical and quasi recreational,” says Derek Peterson, chief executive of marijuana production and retail company Terra Tech. “It’s going to withstand the market more so than a company dependent on high-end consumer goods.”

Initial evidence of the economic durability of marijuana appeared in the 2008-09 recession. Federal seizures of marijuana increased about 84% between 2007 and 2008, and went up another 1.5% in 2009, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration statistics. Since nine states had legalized medical marijuana and none had legalized recreational cannabis during that time period, legal sales data is sparse. In 2009, officials at the Appalachian High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, the government agency responsible for monitoring illegal distribution of marijuana in the Appalachia region, told the Associated Press the spike was due to an increase in domestic demand.

“We’re starting to develop data points,” says Peterson, who previously worked as a senior vice president at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. “Prior to now, people were looking at things like DEA seizure rates to extrapolate market value. They’re probably the best data points we have on what consumption looked like.”

Jeremy Carr, chief executive of Blaze Now, a marijuana industry data collection company, says he worked in commercial real estate in Los Angeles — where medical marijuana had been legalized — in the wake of the recession, and the primary clients investing in warehouses were commercial marijuana companies.

“In L.A., every strip mall had a dispensary and everything else was vacant,” Carr says. “[Real estate] agents relied on them when it came to building out warehouses.”

The legal cannabis market has significantly expanded since then. Twenty-three states have legalized medical marijuana and four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis.

With the larger legal market, new reasons for the industry’s economic resilience have emerged.

Peterson says the transition of the industry out of the black market will create sustained growth over the next decade.

“When you’re moving an established industry from the black market to the [legal] market, there is significant growth from migration, notwithstanding a macro contraction,” he says.

Additionally, in times of economic stress, some consumers can legally turn to marijuana as a way to relax, similar to alcohol and tobacco, Peterson says.

Alan Brochstein, founder of 420 Investor, an investor community for publicly traded cannabis companies, says the opportunity for sustained industry growth will make it attractive to investors.

See also: Marijuana tourism is a budding industry

“There will be new cannabis ventures,” Brochstein says. “Investors will be interested in the most exciting companies. When the economy is tough and the market isn’t performing well, there aren’t many options. Growth will be at a premium.”

Market downturns can also expedite legalization. As other industries contract, legalized marijuana becomes an alternative source of tax revenue, Brochstein says.

From January 2014 through December 2014, the first year of recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado, the state received $53 million in tax revenue, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Though the first year of revenue fell short of the initial projections of $70 million, tax revenue for 2015 was as high as $88 million by May.

Consumers can be counted on to maintain marijuana use through economic downturns, Brochstein says. “In a weaker economy, it helps for adoption in the states that haven’t yet. They’re fiscally insolvent and need taxes.”