The last two months have been busy ones for the marijuana community. Most recently, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) declined to loosen restrictions on medical marijuana, and kept the drug classified in the same ‘Schedule 1’ category as LSD and heroin.

There was much handwringing before and after the decision was handed out over the pros and cons about marijuana’s possible re-scheduling. Some thought that if it did get bumped down into Schedule 2 — a more benign category of addictive substances such as methadone and fentanyl — it would make the entire industry vulnerable to a whole new set of potentially crippling regulations. Others thought that it would finally decriminalize the substance and free it from the yoke of the federal government.

In reality, marijuana’s classification has almost no impact on the industry. “Scheduling is a really misunderstood part of drug policy,” said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an expert on marijuana policy. “Classification simply changes the rules by which federal researchers, or researchers conducting federally approved studies, would have to abide by. It has no impact on the legal cannabis market.” (You can read more about the implications of the DEA ruling in this piece by Hudak.)

In another key development for the marijuana industry, Microsoft announced earlier this summer a partnership with Kind, a Los Angeles company that makes ‘seed-to-sales’ software for tracking the journey of a marijuana plant all the way from its inception to the vaporizers and pipes of consumers.

To understand why Microsoft has made this move, take a peek at the annual sales that the business of cannabis generates: ArcView, a research outfit that tracks the numbers for the industry recently revealed that legal cannabis sales will mushroom to $6.7 billion in 2016, growing at a 25 percent-and-upwards clip, to reach $22 billion in 2020.

One reason behind the growing sales is society’s changing attitudes. It also doesn’t hurt that selling legal forms of the cannabis plant generates cold hard cash for some states. Apparently, Colorado netted a cool $70 million in 2015 from taxes on marijuana sales, almost double the amount it received from alcohol taxes during the same period. This in turn revived the economies of some small towns and provided a huge boost to social projects that deliver relief to low-income students and homeless people. Already four states in the US have legalized both the recreational and medicinal use of the plant.

Meanwhile, 25 other states allow marijuana sales upon the procurement of a doctor’s prescription. Five others including California are expected to follow Colorado’s lead in legalizing recreational uses. Canada, a bastion of marijuana production, will likely do the same by next year. Another research firm, GreenWave Advisors, figures that if all 50 US states were to give weed the green light, sales could top a staggering $35 billion in revenue by 2020, dwarfing what the NFL rakes in by then, according to Fortune. Somewhere, Cheech and Chong are slapping each other’s backs and lighting up in celebration.

Read the other half of the article on ZDnet:

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