For the second straight year, the pandemic wasn't able to slow the cannabis news cycle

click to enlarge 2021 was a big year for weed legalization and spending.
2021 was a big year for weed legalization and spending.

It's been a busy, eventful year in the world of cannabis. Legislative efforts progressed around the country, a ton of money was spent, and designer drugs made their way into the marketplace. Take a look back at some of 2021's biggest cannabis stories.

LEGALIZATION MARCHES ON

The wave of legalization really started building on Election Night 2020, when four states voted to legalize recreational cannabis. Of those, Arizona, Montana and New Jersey's legalization took effect in 2021. Those states were subsequently joined by Connecticut, New Mexico, New York and Virginia, each of which legalized cannabis through its state legislature or executive branch in 2021. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a federally recognized tribe in North Carolina, also legalized recreational cannabis in 2021.

Meanwhile, decriminalization came to Louisiana, while Alabama and South Dakota approved medical cannabis. Even Idaho, arguably the most anti-cannabis state in the union, saw some change as it became the final state to legalize hemp.

SPENDING KEEPS CLIMBING

Data released by the state of Washington shows that a record $1.49 billion was spent in the state's legal market during fiscal 2021, up from $1.27 billion the previous year. That spending resulted in a record $533.9 million of tax revenue being brought in through the legal market. Spokane County saw $164 million spent in 2021, up from $135 million the previous year.

Research from MJBizDaily estimated the nationwide economic impact of the legal cannabis industry at $92 billion in 2021, up from $70 billion in 2020.

CANNABIS DESIGNER DRUGS

A chemical known as delta-8 THC flooded into the market in 2021 after some manufacturers began exploiting a loophole in federal hemp regulations. An isomer of delta-9 THC, the chemical normally referred to as simply THC, delta-8 THC is present in small amounts in cannabis. Delta-8 creates similar effects as regular THC, and it can be synthesized from the CBD present in legal industrial hemp. This loophole led to delta-8 products flooding into states with and without legal markets.

Delta-8 falls into a legal gray area, but has been treated as effectively legal at the federal level. To counter this, numerous states, including Washington in April, opted to clarify policies banning the substance at the state level. Despite that ban, delta-8 products are still advertised specifically to Washingtonians online. ♦