MJBizDaily’s most popular cannabis business stories of 2023

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Growing fears over a dangerous plant pathogen … the Biden administration’s support for reclassifying marijuana as a less dangerous drug … the proliferation of hemp-derived products containing intoxicating delta-8 THC.

Those were among the most clicked-on stories here at MJBizDaily over the past year.

Those issues also represent some of the biggest hurdles and opportunities confronting cannabis executives, advocates and policymakers as the industry heads into the new year.

Here’s a look back our 10 most-read cannabis business stories of 2023:

1. Experts sound alarm over global spread of dangerous marijuana viroid

This story about a viroid went viral.

Researchers are calling the highly infectious hop latent viroid “a hidden threat” and the “biggest concern” for cannabis  growers worldwide.

“It’s an all-out crisis,” said Av Singh, a Canadian cannabis cultivation adviser also working as the chief science officer of Green Gorilla, a Malibu, California-based manufacturer and online retailer of hemp-derived CBD oils, topicals and pet products.

2. Judge tosses Michigan lawsuit because marijuana is federally illegal

A U.S. district judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency not for any reason related to the dispute – but simply because marijuana is illegal under federal law.

U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney ruled the marijuana industry isn’t protected by the U.S. Constitution – underscoring the legal minefield facing the cannabis industry.

3. Canadian cannabis company Adastra gets permission to sell cocaine

Small wonder that a headline containing the words cannabis and cocaine would attract so many eyeballs.

British Columbia-based cannabis company Adastra Labs won approval from Health Canada to possess, produce, sell and distribute cocaine, psilocybin and psilocin.

The company received its Controlled Drug and Substances dealer’s license for the psychedelics in August.

A dealer’s license allows sales for clinical and scientific research or for medical purposes that have been legalized.

4. Virginia’s adult-use cannabis market stalled indefinitely

The rollout of Virginia’s recreational marijuana industry sputtered after a November 2021 state election in which Republicans regained control of the governor’s office plus the House of Delegates, the Legislature’s lower chamber.

The issue: The legalization bill that the then-Democratic-controlled General Assembly sent to former Gov. Ralph Northam two years earlier was a half-measure.

Northam signed the bill into law in April 2021.

But Republicans’ newfound control of the Legislature and the governor’s mansion meant the legislation required to set up an adult-use market floundered.

Fast forward to today: Prospects for a legal market have improved after yet another state election.

5. DEA likely to OK marijuana rescheduling, but election and lawsuits could get in the way

The rescheduling of marijuana would be a game changer for the cannabis industry.

Prospects for such a move increased dramatically after an Aug. 29 recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) that the drug be reclassified as a Schedule 3 controlled substance.

Legal experts say the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has no choice but to codify the recommendation, which would immediately relieve cannabis operators from Section 280E of the IRS code.

6. Delta-8 THC, hemp producers in limbo as Congress extends Farm Bill

Speaking of hemp-derived cannabinoids, the emergency funding bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in November to avoid a government shutdown also includes an extension of the Farm Bill until September 2024.

That means Congress now will have more time to craft a new Farm Bill that advocates hope will address the burgeoning national market in hemp-derived cannabinoids, including delta-8 THC.

7. 4 states have a good shot at legalizing recreational marijuana in 2023

Two states followed through on our prediction last January: Minnesota and Ohio.

Voters in a third state said no.

And a fourth state where we had high hopes failed to cross the finish line.

Meanwhile, a fifth state that was not initially on our radar approved adult-use legalization after the governor allowed pending legislation to become law.

8. Kentucky is latest state to impose delta-8 restrictions

A national leader in hemp production, Kentucky became the latest state to move to regulate products containing hemp-derived intoxicating cannabinoids.

9. Canada’s unsold cannabis inventory balloons to 1.5 billion grams

Business failures and consolidation failed to stop Canada’s stockpile of unsold cannabis from reaching a new high in the final quarter of 2022.

It further underscored how Canada’s cannabis producers are struggling with falling prices and squeezed margins.

Packaged and unpackaged inventory of dried cannabis jumped to an all-time high of 1.47 billion grams (3.2 million pounds) as of December 2022, up from 1.3 billion grams in December 2021.

10. Mastercard ban on cannabis debit-card purchases rocks industry

The cannabis industry was dealt yet another financial blow over the summer by Mastercard’s new hardline demand that banks and payment processors immediately halt marijuana transactions involving its debit card.

The news was a stark reminder that these types of business setbacks will persist without federal marijuana reform and as long as the plant remains illegal under U.S. law.

Roger Fillion can be reached at roger.fillion@mjbizdaily.com