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Did the Covid pandemic drive an increase in cannabis use? Likely so, study confirms.

Updated: Aug 18, 2021


Legal sales of cannabis increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, results of a recent study confirm.


Although more research is needed to say for certain whether the pandemic and quarantine were the major driving factors, data from four states with legal recreational cannabis suggest that the increases followed the issue of stay-at-home orders.

“Legal marijuana sales in multiple states reached record highs in mid-2020 as coronavirus spread across the nation,” wrote Ben Adlin for Marijuana Moment, which first reported on the study.


The paper, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, analyzed cannabis sales before and during the pandemic in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

The report was authored by a team including researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Public Health Service, and public health agencies from Washington, Oregon and Alaska.


Below: details about the study and what they found.


Sales increased more during the pandemic than previous years

“To date,” the study’s authors wrote, “cannabis sales in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have increased more during the Covid-19 pandemic than in the previous two years.”


To determine this, they identified trends in sales data from cannabis marketplaces from January 2018 through December 2020, comparing the percentage change in monthly sales averages by state. They limited their review to April through December each year, to limit factors beyond the onset of the pandemic. Then they analyzed sales from 2018, 2019 and 2020.

“Sales reached a three-year peak in Washington in May 2020 and in Alaska, Colorado, and Oregon in July 2020."

“Mean monthly cannabis sales in all four states were higher during the pandemic period in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019,” the researchers found.“Sales reached a three-year peak in Washington in May 2020 and in Alaska, Colorado, and Oregon in July 2020. From April–December, the percent change in mean monthly sales from 2019 to 2020 was significantly higher than 2018–2019 in all four states, though Alaska saw similar increases between 2018–2019 and 2019–2020.”


The study noted that most states allowed cannabis retailers to remain open as essential services.


“[E]ven amid stay-at-home orders that dealt hard hits to other economic sectors, cannabis sales picked up speed,” Adlin wrote for Marijuana Moment. He noted the study’s findings showing a general increase in cannabis sales after stay-at-home orders were issued in all four states in late March 2020. The increases were “greater than the percent increases observed in the preceding two years.”


After sharing their findings, the researchers called for data monitoring by states and the CDC, “to understand how patterns of use are changing, which populations are demonstrating changes in use, and how such changes may affect substance use and related public health outcomes.”


‘Vice industries thrived’

The study confirms observations about the cannabis industry made throughout the pandemic.

“During a year that saw hundreds of thousands of American deaths and widespread suffering, so-called vice industries thrived,” Sy Mukherjee wrote for Fortune in April 2021. "Whether for mental health needs, self-medication, or pure recreation, the consuming public hoarded alcohol and other substances in an apparent effort to cope with the outbreak and social isolation over the past 12 months.”


Nationwide sales data from December 2020 showed an increase in medical and adult-use marijuana of 71% from 2019 to 2020, cannabis news and retail guide Leafly reported.


“Americans purchased $18.3 billion in cannabis products over the past calendar year,” wrote Bruce Barcott for Leafly, “$7.6 billion more than the $10.7 billion in sales the previous year.”

“The consuming public hoarded alcohol and other substances in an apparent effort to cope with the outbreak and social isolation over the past 12 months.”

Concerns around scarcity may have driven sales of cannabis products as well.


“While the sales spikes may reveal something about the psychology of consumers amid the pandemic, the surge feeds into a broader panic-buying trend that has stripped supermarket shelves,” Paul Sawers wrote for Venture Beat in late March, 2020.


With panic buying, one might expect sales to have subsided. Instead, some are saying the growth is expected to increase.


“One of the biggest beneficiaries [of pandemic-related sales] was the cannabis industry, which saw explosive growth in 2020," Mukherjee wrote for Fortune, "that’s expected to continue into the next decade and beyond as an increasing number of states legalize recreational marijuana use.”

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