If it weren’t for a healthy dose of vices this year, many more Americans would have cracked under the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic. For those companies providing stress relief, it’s been a stellar year of record sales and an unprecedented number of new (and presumably very satisfied) customers.
Here, we recognize the very best with our inaugural Forbes Vice Awards. From cannabis to gambling apps to sex toys, these are the people and products that helped ease the pain of 2020.
Best Product: Pivot
Many folks are indulging themselves during the pandemic, but sometimes quitting a vice relieves just as much stress. Pivot, a smoking cessation platform built by Redwood City, California-based Carrot Inc., pairs a breath sensor that measures carbon monoxide levels with a mobile app, nicotine replacement products and coaching. In October, a clinical trial found that nearly half of the study’s 234 participants made at least one quit attempt, 39% reduced their cigarette consumption by at least 50%, and 12% quit smoking entirely over a three-month period. Those are big numbers in a year that took so many lives from a deadly respiratory virus.
Most Intriguing Newcomer: Circa
With Las Vegas in a recession and some of the city’s biggest businesspeople (including Sheldon Adelson) trying to sell their assets on the Strip, there’s a new gambler in town. Derek Stevens, who owns the Golden Gate and the D with his brother, opened Circa, the first new casino in Downtown Vegas in 40 years. Circa is an adults-only property, boasting the largest TV in town and a sportsbook “stadium” with a pool and 4,000 seats. It will be a while before Circa can hit full capacity, but when travel resumes in 2021, circa who knows when, Circa will be waiting.
Disruptive Innovator: Lovense
The Singapore-based company makes Bluetooth-enabled sex toys that can be controlled from afar, making “teledildonics” a safe and lucrative alternative to actual intimacy this year. As Covid-19 lockdown measures led to a surge in sex toy sales, Lovense’s devices became go-to products for long-distance couples (and strangers) and helped sex workers do cam shows online. “You can pay to try to give someone an orgasm,” explains sex writer and historian Hallie Lieberman. Lovense has integrated its technology with cam sites and added casino-like games—which sounds better than playing alone.
Outstanding Firm: Wyld
In just five years, the Oregon-based cannabis edibles brand Wyld has grown from a bootstrapping startup in the woods to dominating the market. “What’s smart about them is that they created a hero product in an overlooked category and leaned into it with focus and achieved hypergrowth,” says Emily Paxhia, cofounder and managing partner of cannabis investment firm Poseidon Asset Management. “It’s not easily found in our industry.” Wyld projects some $65 million in revenue for 2020—up from $25 million last year. And with more states legalizing cannabis in 2021, that number is expected to go much higher.
Annus Horribilis: MedMen
MedMen—perhaps the best-known and most overhyped cannabis retailer, with 29 stores in seven states, stretching from Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue to Venice Beach, California—imploded this year. After it reached a $1.6 billion valuation in 2018, analysts put the company’s valuation at zero this year and gave it a “sell” rating. Adam Bierman, the company’s controversial and beleaguered CEO and cofounder, resigned in January and stepped down from the board in June. The question is: Can the remaining business recover, or will it go up in smoke in 2021?
Forbes Forecast: Cannabis in Latin America
Cannabis legalization continues to spread in the United States, and President-elect Joe Biden supports decriminalization. But it’s unclear when—or if—federal legalization will take place. For investors looking at the big picture, 2021 could be a big year for the global cannabis market as Mexico is slated to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use. And Colombia, which has become a global exporter of legal cannabis since allowing medical marijuana in 2016, is debating adult use.
“The turning-on of Latin America opens the global supply chain,” says Paxhia. “When you think about how to create a sustainable global economy and where you should cultivate, manufacture and distribute and still have a margin, it’ll be from Mexico and Colombia. These are the two places to watch.”
And drumroll, please …
Forbes Person Of The Year In Vices: Charlotte Figi
The cannabis industry lost a young hero this year. Charlotte Figi was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy as an infant, and CBD oil, a derivative of cannabis, was the only thing that stopped her barrage of grand mal seizures—sometimes as many as 300 a week. Perhaps more than anyone, it was Charlotte who helped change how people viewed medical marijuana—and a strain of CBD oil was named in her honor, Charlotte’s Web. “It was hard to explain the medical aspect of cannabis, but with Charlotte they could see her life change from a living hell to a normal existence,” says Paxhia. “Charlotte and her story really cut through and helped change laws.” The 13-year-old Charlotte died in April, most likely from complications of Covid-19.