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Monday December 14, 2020

By Erin Hiatt


At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic there were a lot of unknowns, not only for the populace writ large but also for states and localities as they tried to figure out what businesses to keep open and what guidelines needed to be implemented to keep workers and consumers safe. Fortunately for the legal cannabis industry and consumers, cannabis dispensaries were deemed essential businesses, allowing them to remain open with some restrictions. 

Though dispensaries were allowed to remain open, business did not carry on as usual. With new public health and safety guidelines in place, consumers have been venturing out less often from their homes to make purchases of anything, much less cannabis. As a result, the kinds of cannabis people are buying is changing. 

Cannabis Sales During the COVID-19 Pandemic

From the data, one thing is clear: consumers are buying more legal cannabis than ever, and they appear to be stocking up. Here is some data gathered by the folks at CNBC: 

Marijuana Sales Trends During COVID:

  • According to one cannabis e-commerce platform, dispensary revenue jumped to 52% on the low end and 130% on the upper end
  • The same platform also saw new users ordering online increased to 142%

Cannabis sales analytics firm Headset took a look at sales data from California, Colorado, Nevada, and Washington pre-COVID, defined as January 1 to March 6, 2020, then compared them to the sales that followed. An initial finding is that consumers seem to be shying away from products that are often shared or need to be purchased frequently, and pre-rolls have taken a big hit during COVID.

In an effort to avoid spreading germs, consumers have not been smoking pre-roll joints as often.

Picking up the slack are sales of flower, emerging as a consumer favorite. Not only are flower sales up overall, but consumers are buying more of it at once. Sales of 1 ounce packages grew by 41 percent across U.S. markets, while sales of 1 gram packages fell by 13 percent. 

Explaining Shifts in Consumer Trends

Analysts believe that this change is driven again by public health guidance advising consumers to make fewer trips away from their homes. A second factor driving an increase in flower sales may also be worry about consumer access to favorite strains, an important consideration for medical cannabis patients especially.

An unexpected finding in the sales data showed that consumers are purchasing more cannabis beverages, which previous to COVID was a niche category. So far, sales of beverages have risen by 14 percent. 

Cannabis-infused drinks
Since the pandemic has started, cannabis beverages have increased in popularity. photo credit

Far and away, edibles are the most purchased cannabis products during COVID, up market wide by 28 percent. Industry leaders attribute the shift to several factors: Consumers are looking for ways to consume cannabis that does not require repeated hand to mouth action that methods like joints and vapes require. A second factor are the health detriments of inhaling cannabis directly into the lungs. Though experts learn more about how COVID affects the body as the pandemic unfolds, COVID-19 is considered a respiratory disease that can badly damage your respiratory tract, lungs included. 

Another benefit of consuming edibles is that it’s an odorless and discreet consumption method. With more time spent indoors with families or roommates, and many consumers are trying to find ways to calm the anxiety and sleeplessness that this year has brought to so many.

The Takeaway

It’s unknown exactly how the effects of the COVID pandemic will continue to shape the cannabis market once the virus is controlled, though it is almost guaranteed to have a lasting impact. There are some ways in which it may never be the same. The ability to smell buds right out of the jar at dispensaries seems like its days are numbered, to say the least, but many more as well.

How do you think COVID will shape the future of the cannabis market? Discuss in the comments!

Photo Credit: Mike Von (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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