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Sunday June 7, 2020

By Erin Hiatt


Remember back in the day when you could just hop in the car, wander into a dispensary (if you are of legal age, of course), and spend some time smelling and looking at all the pretty products? Before mid-March, the time when awareness of the coronavirus fully took hold and governments started issuing stay-at-home orders in response to the rapidly spreading virus, cannabis sales in legal states were fairly regular and predictable. Things are far from normal now, but that hasn’t stopped cannabis sales.

Cannabis Sales Increase Soon After COVID Hits

Before the week of March 16, according to cannabis industry analysis firm Headset, 18.5 to 19.8 percent of cannabis transactions at legal businesses occurred on Fridays (based on data from 1,000 retailers across California, Colorado, Nevada, Washington, and Oregon). Similar predictable sales trends also took place during holiday weeks, when retailers see a sales spike the day before a business would be closed for a holiday like Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Cannabis sales increased significantly when the coronavirus pandemic hit. photo credit

However, Monday, March 16, kicked off a dramatic increase in cannabis sales normally reserved for Fridays and holiday eves. Just like the consumer who rushed to Costco to buy up all the toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, and rubbing alcohol, more cannabis consumers made trips to dispensaries, at least in part due to fear that access to cannabis would be cut off or reduced during quarantine.

This panic buying trend continued into the week of March 23, but settled back in a more pre-COVID pattern as states adapted regulations to ensure the health and safety of workers, and consumers realized that legal cannabis transactions, albeit in a somewhat different form like curbside pickup, would continue.

Cannabis Consumer Trends During COVID-19

As COVID continued into April, consumers began to settle into new pandemic consumption patterns. As compared to previous years, cannabis sales did decline somewhat across the board, and especially on normally robust days like Friday and Saturday – with the exception of the week leading up to 4/20. States that rely on cannabis tourism, like Nevada and Colorado, have seen a more dramatic sales decline than other legal states.

Not only are people venturing out less frequently to purchase cannabis, they are also buying different things. For example, sales of pre-rolls, usually shared amongst friends, are way down, while sales of larger amounts of flower are way up, some 41 percent across U.S. markets.

Since one of the health impacts of the coronavirus is to attack the lungs, perhaps it’s no surprise that the largest sales increase goes to edibles, up more than 28 percent on average across legal states.

Outside of brick-and-mortar dispensaries, the CBD industry has seen a dramatic shift in consumer buying patterns. Cannabis consumer and marketing intelligence firm the Brightfield Group recently reported that more than a third of CBD consumers plan to make purchases online, and that they had already or planned to stock up on the compound during the pandemic, while more than 37 percent said they planned to use CBD more frequently.

Yet, there is an element of buyer beware for consumers and CBD during the pandemic. A handful of companies in the CBD space have come under scrutiny for making claims that the non-intoxicating compound could prevent or cure COVID-19. There is no scientific evidence that backs this claim. Even in the best of times, it makes good sense for consumers to buy CBD from businesses operating in legal states, and to make sure that the product has been tested for toxins like heavy metal, molds, and pesticides. And as always, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Whether consumers return to their pre-COVID consumption patterns remains to be seen. And while the cannabis industry is notoriously volatile, thus far, it seems to be holding up fairly well during this very strange time.

Photo Credit: Josh Appel (license)


Erin Hiatt Erin Hiatt

Erin Hiatt is a New York City-based writer who has been covering the cannabis industry for more than six years. Her work - which has appeared in Hemp Connoisseur Magazine, PotGuide, Civilized, Vice, Freedom Leaf, MERRY JANE, Alternet, and CannaInvestor - covers a broad range of topics, including cannabis policy and law, CBD, hemp law and applications, science and technology, beauty, and psychedelics.

Erin's work and industry insights have been featured on the podcasts The Let's Go Eat Show, In the Know 420, and she has appeared as a featured panelist on the topic of hemp media. Erin has interviewed top industry experts such as Dr. Carl Hart, Ethan Nadelmann, Amanda Feilding, Mark A.R. Kleiman, Dr. James Fadiman, and culture icons Governor Jesse Ventura, and author Tom Robbins. You can follow her work on LinkedInWordpress, @erinhiatt on Twitter, and @erinisred on Instagram.

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