Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute

Cannabis Sales in WA, OR, AK, and CO Increase During COVID-19 Pandemic

Open glass jars of cannabis against blue background

Cannabis sales in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington increased more during the COVID-19 pandemic than in the previous two years, according to this new study in the International Journal of Drug Policy from ADAI research scientist Gillian Schauer and colleagues – the first study to document changes in U.S. cannabis sales data during the pandemic.

After COVID-19 emergency declarations in the U.S., many states issued stay-at-home orders for all but essential businesses. In most states with legalized cannabis (medical and/or non-medical), cannabis retailers were allowed to remain open.  

Looking at pre-tax sales data from retailers, Schauer and colleagues found that mean monthly cannabis sales in all four states were higher during the pandemic period in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

In all four states, increases in sales during the pandemic were greater than percent increases observed in the preceding two years, with sales reaching a 3-year peak in May 2020 (WA) and July 2020 (AK, CO, OR).

A variety of factors could have driven these increases, including increased use due to stress from the pandemic, curbside pick-up or delivery services that made it easier for some customers to purchase cannabis, customers switching from the illicit market to retail stores, greater demand for more expensive cannabis products (e.g., concentrates and oils), or an increase in prices in response to increased demand. More research is needed to explore possible explanations.

In light of this information, data monitoring by states and the CDC is warranted to shed light on how patterns of use are changing, which populations are demonstrating those changes in use, and how all of this may impact a range of public health outcomes, including cannabis and other substance use disorders.

Citation: Schauer GL, et al. Cannabis sales increases during COVID-19: Findings from Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. International Journal of Drug Policy 2021;98:103384.