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2018 marked the historic legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada, the end of hemp prohibition in the United States and huge wins on Election Day for state-legal cannabis and medical marijuana initiatives across the U.S.
On the financial front, Big Booze, Tobacco and Pharma cracked their wallets open wide to invest in cannabis firms, and a slew of Canadian MJ companies debuted on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq.
M&A headlines also dominated as consolidations and investments in cannabis firms rocketed.
Meanwhile, marijuana businesses watched carefully to see if another shoe would drop after the Cole Memo was rescinded by Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year - but nothing happened. And by November, President Donald Trump had dumped Sessions.
Take a look back at these and other crucial marijuana business stories that broke this year in this slideshow.
Click here to view the International Year in Review.
Canada still at forefront of cannabis industry
Canada - already a world leader in the marijuana industry - became an even better place to do business after it became the first G-7 country to legalize recreational cannabis.
That will pave the way for other countries to follow, said former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and licensed producers spent the year opening markets in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Europe.
2018 Farm Bill legalizes hemp, and new law signals major changes for cannabis industry ahead
After months of delay, Congress overwhelmingly passed a Farm Bill in December that removed hemp - and hemp-derived CBD - from the Controlled Substances Act, and Trump signed it into law soon after.
Big Booze, Tobacco and Pharma make big marijuana bets
Major alcohol and tobacco firms upped their antes on cannabis in 2018, placing multibillion-dollar bids into expanding Canadian marijuana firms.
Cannabis consolidations and investments soar in 2018
Marijuana companies across the globe were on pace to raise a record $14 billion by the end of 2018 as more companies went public and scaled to meet growing demand.
Among the most notable U.S. deals sealed this year:
• New York-based Acreage Holdings raised $119 million to bankroll acquisitions and list its shares on the Canadian Securities Exchange. (Kevin Murphy, founder and CEO of Acreage Holdings, is shown above speaking at MJBizCon in November.)
• Chicago-based Cresco Labs had a $100 million funding round ahead of going public in Canada.
In January, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo, a 2013 Department of Justice policy that essentially directed federal law enforcement to leave state-licensed cannabis businesses alone as long as they complied with certain guidelines.
But nothing happened after Sessions’ move, the marijuana industry continued to flourish, and by November he was out.
Donald Trump subsequently nominated William Barr, who served two years as attorney general under George H.W. Bush, to replace Sessions. Still to be confirmed, Barr’s current stance on marijuana policy is unclear.
Legal marijuana took a $2 billion+ step forward in 2018 through state elections
The four markets are expected to generate up to $2.25 billion in combined annual sales within several years of launching their programs, according to the Marijuana Business Factbook 2018.
DEA takes some CBD medicines off Schedule 1
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June approved a naturally derived CBD drug, Epidiolex.
The landmark decision triggered a new classification for the cannabinoid from the Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA announced that drugs including “finished dosage formulations” of CBD with THC below 0.1% will be considered Schedule 5 drugs, provided the medications have been approved by the FDA.
MJ entrepreneurs across the U.S. work in an increasingly mainstream industry
The four major new U.S. state cannabis markets to roll out in 2018 included adult-use sales in California and Massachusetts along with medical cannabis in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma.
Those launches brought the functioning cannabis industry in the United States even further into the mainstream, given that all four formally legalized recreational or medical in just the past two years.
Marijuana wholesale prices crashing
As it turns out, there can be too much of a good thing.
Beginning with the 2017 fall outdoor harvest, wholesale prices of flower in several mature U.S. cannabis markets have trended steadily downward, caused largely by an overabundance of product.
In particular, cultivators in Colorado, Oregon and Washington state watched as wholesale prices of pounds of flower fell by double-digit percentages.
According to Oregon growers, indoor-grown wholesale cannabis prices in the state dropped 30%-50% from last year, and Colorado and Washington’s declines weren’t far behind.