The burgeoning legal cannabis industry has seen a boom in some states during the coronavirus pandemic. Reports around the country indicate that states where adult recreational use of cannabis is legal, have seen an increase in sales, even as the rest of the economy falters. The numbers have some lawmakers and economists looking more favorably than ever in this emerging market.
This week, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that cannabis sales hit a record high in the state in the month of May, increasing by 60 percent compared to the same time last year. Local CBS News affiliate WTOL 11 reported a similar phenomenon in Michigan earlier in May, noting that the marijuana industry pulled in almost $5 million more in March than in February, despite the onset of the pandemic. Marijuana Business Daily even noted a huge sales spike in Florida, where recreational cannabis is not available, but medical prescriptions are.
Experts saw these sales spikes as a confluence of favorable conditions for the cannabis industry but were not optimistic that sales would stay so high. For example, North Coast Provisions co-owner Sean McQuarrie told WTOL 11 that recreational marijuana was relatively new for Michigan when the pandemic hit, so customers were seeking "that novelty of wanting to go out that first week. We saw a lot of first-timers."
McQuarrie also acknowledged that being confined to their homes made cannabis an even more appealing prospect to many customers. "I think a lot of people are at home right now and marijuana use has kind of gone up a little bit because there's not a lot to do, right? A lot of people are at home right now," he said.
Still, recreational marijuana sales did not continue in all states where it is allowed at the beginning of the pandemic. Massachusetts' relatively new adult-use dispensaries retracted to medical sales only for several weeks, cutting down on temptations for people to go out shopping. Advocates argued that if liquor stores were allowed to stay open, marijuana should still be for sale as well.
At the same time, recreational marijuana is an expensive product that may fall low on some people's priority list as the economic fall-out of the coronavirus continues. For this same reason, advocates say the states should capitalize on these sales while it can.
"I think it's two-part," McQuarrie said. "I think the state sees that there are a lot of people who need this medicine. It's kind of how they get through their day-to-day and it's important to their daily lives. And then the other side of it is obviously the tax revenue it generates."