Opinion: Main Street and the State of the American Dream

Abstract geometric style Group of People vector illustration.
Illustration: danjazzia / Shutterstock

May you live in interesting times.” Whether you perceive those words as a curse or a call, we are indisputably living through incredibly interesting times. With historic events and societal changes occurring almost daily on a global scale, imagining the world we’ll one day look back on together can feel absolutely overwhelming. We’re sowing trees that will provide shade for generations who never knew us—in our culture, our government, and our economy.

Nearly half a million Americans are actively involved in an industry that emerged from an illicit market to become a permanent commercial enterprise, all while it remains illegal under federal law. Since Colorado premiered the first-in-the-world legal, regulated adult-use market, the question of the inevitable end to national prohibition has been batted around both chambers of Congress.


While our representatives in Washington, D.C.—and the candidates pursuing their seats—continue to propose legislation and build coalitions, we see the framework for the established market solidifying. New markets are added state by state, and in these laboratories of democracy, new sets of regulations and rules are implemented and means-tested.

Now, with the benefit of nearly a decade of legal sales, experts who have been advocating for sensible cannabis regulations for generations have the real data we need to support our fight for a responsible, equitable new industry—one composed of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses in America’s Main Street economy. One that can help enrich each and every one of us, not just the already wealthy.

After two years of pandemic living, it is clear the American Dream is still alive and well, even when it’s plausibly never felt more inaccessible. When times get tough, we turn to our nation’s entrepreneurial roots and invest in ourselves. Analysts report 4.4 million new small businesses were started in 2020 alone. In the cannabis industry, annual sales reached $26.5 billion.

New Frontier Data crunched the numbers, and the compound annual growth rate of the legal cannabis industry will be 11 percent through 2030, valuing the space at more than $57 billion. Wall Street is calling for the industry to be worth substantially more by then, projecting its value will reach $100 billion.

That’s certainly possible, but that Wall Street is the one making the push toward twelve figures should raise some concern from even the most casual cannabis consumers. Time and again, customers and lawmakers have indicated they would prefer a locally owned, small-business model for the to-be-established commercial market.

In 2015, voters in Ohio rejected a nefarious legalization initiative that would have created an absolute oligopoly on sales for a small handful of the initiative’s wealthy donors. Given the state’s overwhelming support for legalization in general, this indicated a desire for personal home cultivation and free markets that benefit Main Street businesses.

Seven years later, Congress is considering a record number of bills ranging from federally protected banking services to veteran medicinal access and comprehensive legalization legislation.

When the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) formally launched in 2010, we were alone in advocating for the national interests of cannabis businesses. Some other industry groups have come to the table in the decade-plus since, illustrating the successful path we have forged—but not all share our vision for an open, inclusive, and vibrant marketplace for small businesses. Some of the other players that have popped up in the industry advocacy space have a history of opposing personal home cultivation while pushing for limited markets and high barriers to entry only the largest companies within their membership could clear.

From fighting limited license caps to ensuring equitable access to the acquisition of generational wealth for all, NCIA has long been a voice for the regular people in our space. Small and medium-sized businesses fighting to be established in a patchwork of changing regulations and expectations have composed the organization’s membership since the beginning. As national legalization models are debated in the halls of power, NCIA’s professional government-relations team is ensuring Main Street businesses are part of the conversation—not just the select few with pockets deep enough to hire their own lobbyists.

A unified and united cannabis community can combat encroachment on our space by billionaire speculators, oligarchs, and those who prefer profit over people. We are seeing the successes of small voices joining together in the labor movement as ordinary people fight for dignity in their workplaces across the country. The industry can come together as one in the same way.

Previous articleProject Cannabis Brings Urban, OG Cannabis Culture to DTLA
Next articleLift&Co. Expo Cannabis Business Conference & Trade Show Releases Limited All-Access Presale Tickets