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This Year's Election Could Be a Big Deal for the Legal Pot Business

Image: A Cannabis plant is pictured at the "Weed the People" event as enthusiasts gather to celebrate the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana in Portland, Oregon

A Cannabis plant. STEVE DIPAOLA / Reuters file

This year could be historic, not only for the presidency but also for the American marijuana industry, according to research released this week from Marijuana Business Daily, a leading publication of information on the medical and retail cannabis markets.

The publication a few years back was initially tentative about the industry's prospects, but it is now bullish on weed.

"We're witnessing the emergence of a business that is about to become a massive economic force," wrote managing editor Chris Walsh in the publication's 2016 factbook.

First year of Colorado pot sales brings pluses, minuses 3:06

Put simply, this election year will play a pivotal role in the future of the nation's marijuana industry.

"You're gonna have a handful of states voting on whether or not to legalize," Walsh told CNBC. "These states could have some huge markets."

For instance, Florida, with its large senior population is "ripe" for legalized medical marijuana, according to Walsh. However, he said the real excitement is around Nevada, a huge tourist destination, which is voting on legalizing recreational marijuana use this year.

Read More from CNBC: Legal Pot Sales Soar to $5.4 Billion in 2015, Report Says

Marijuana Business Daily's exclusive research data found that year-to-year growth of medical and recreational sales from 2015 to 2016 will go from 17 percent to 26 percent, between $3.5 billion and $4.3 billion in revenue being raised this year. These are sales through legal dispensaries and storefronts or what Walsh called the "core of the industry," not the black market.

Nevertheless, he admits that the boom is taking the industry away from a mom-and-pop focus, something that many are not happy about.

Walsh said that legalized states "are still feeling their way along, especially on the recreational side" with edibles and infused products for which there is a fast-growing demand as people cannot or do not want to inhale smoke.

Pot User 'Excited' by Oregon's Legalizing Recreational Marijuana 0:49

These states are pushing for more regulation, whether that means adding conditions for medical patients or "grappling with pesticides" on the cultivation side of the business.

In addition, Walsh said that medical marijuana markets — even mature ones — continue to grow while start-up costs for dispensaries, testing labs and even infused product companies are increasing to cover licensing fees, standards and security.

Read More from CNBC: Is Legal Pot Putting Mexican Drug Farmers Out of Business?

According to the data, the American marijuana industry will contribute $44 billion to the country's economy by 2020 "if current business and legalization trends continue."

"More states need to keep legalizing medical or recreational marijuana," said Walsh, who equated the momentous industry boom with landmark decisions in marriage equality.

"It sounded laughable two or three years ago, but now it could be a reality ... things change almost overnight," he said.