Back in 1938, Popular Mechanics ran an article about how cannabis (specifically, hemp) was the new "billion-dollar crop." It may have taken nearly eight decades, but according to a report released this week, the legal cannabis industry is now worth well over twice that. 

The report, by ArcView Market Research, the research arm of cannabis-focused angel investor network the ArcView Group, finds that the U.S. cannabis industry has a value of $2.7 billion. That's a 74 percent increase from 2013, making it the fastest-growing industry in the country.

If all 50 states were to legalize sales of recreational marijuana, the market would be larger than the organic food industry, with a value of $36.8 billion, ArcView's "State of Legal Marijuana Markets" report finds.

To date, 23 states have legalized medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington State have legalized recreational cannabis for adults 21 and older. Voters in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, D.C., approved recreational cannabis as well, but the retail industry is not yet off the ground in Alaska and Oregon, and Congress has banned retail sales in the nation's capital. 

The report predicts that in the next five years 14 other states will adopt recreational sales and two more states will legalize medical cannabis. ArcView says by 2019, the new legal markets and "maturation of the existing markets" will produce a $10.8 billion market.

Interestingly enough, Colorado is not the biggest cannabis market, according to the report. California, which legalized medical sales in 1996, leads all states at $1.3 billion. The report also says that five states now boast marijuana markets worth more than $100 million.

The success in Colorado and Washington is not due to corporate America. Instead, the legal marijuana market in America has grown thanks to entrepreneurs and private investors--"sophisticated players" who "capitalized on the seismic shifts occurring in the regulatory environment," says ArcView Group CEO Troy Dayton in the report.

As the recreational marijuana market in those states continues to mature, public perception also has changed, Dayton says. "In the last year, the rise of the cannabis industry went from an interesting cocktail conversation to being taken seriously as the fastest-growing industry in America," he says. "At this point, it's hard to imagine that any serious businessperson who is paying attention hasn't spent some time thinking about the possibilities in this market."

Published on: Jan 27, 2015