As the smoke starts to clear from last Friday's worldwide 4/20 celebration, reports from America's green rush suggest that this year's annual hash holiday was the most successful ever — even in the face of some pesky cops looking to stamp out public consumption.
Thanks to the slow-churning pace of state-level sales data, official 4/20 dispensary business statistics won't be available until sometime next month. But if you ask the industry's market analyst experts, last week's pot party brought in anywhere from $80 million to nearly $1.2 billion. On the lower end, Denver-based MJ Freeway predicted that single day pot sales would almost double the previous year's holiday total of just over $40 million. On the higher end, USA Today reports that legal weed sales platform LeafLink predicted that $1.17 billion of bud would be sold during the entire week of 4/20.
But no matter how much weed was actually sold in state-licensed pot shops last week, market analysts and other sales experts are in unified agreement that this year's 4/20 retail experience would have been even bigger if California had spent the last few months licensing even more growers, distributors, and dispensaries.
The California Bureau of Cannabis Control has been handing out adult-use cannabis business licenses since New Year's Day, but it's been a slow start. With only a little more than 600 approved pot shops serving nearly 40 million residents — as well as most dispensaries concentrated in urban areas — huge swaths of the Golden State still lack access to fully legal weed. If California had enough legal dispensaries or delivery services to serve more of the state, experts say 4/20 sales would have been astronomical.
"The restrictions and the rules and regulations that the state put forth are very, very stringent, so some dispensaries are still in this limbo area," A.G. Melendez, director of operations at The Green Door dispensary in San Francisco, told CNBC about this year's holiday sales.
Carrying those legal weed grey areas into the realm of personal consumption, a number of 4/20 festival-goers in Colorado and California reported increased police presence at this year's public parties. Allegedly, cops were actively seeking out smokers to cite and ticket for smoking weed outside, which remains a crime, even in places where cannabis is entirely legal.
At Denver's annual Civic Center smoke-out, local police handed out more than twice the number of public consumption tickets than they did in 2017. According to Westword, Denver cops wrote 64 citations for smoking in public last Friday, and added two citations for marijuana distribution, four driving related citations, and one ticket each for theft and public urination.
In the Golden State, the University of California Santa Cruz called in over 100 police officers from the UC campus network to oversee the college's annual 4/20 celebration. The Californian reported that police were actively targeting smokers by requesting they stop, as well as writing tickets for public consumption.
"Legalization allowed people over the age of 21 to possess [cannabis] — it didn't allow them to come out into public and smoke it," UC Santa Cruz Police Chief Nader Oweis told The Californian.
Across the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, partiers at the annual Hippie Hill celebration in Golden Gate Park reported an increased presence of security personnel and police. The cannabis enthusiasts said, however, that the authoritarian figures generally left party-goers alone, even as nearly 15,000 people lit up at once as the clock struck 4:20.
And in Denver, while 64 people will now need to confront a court date for smoking a legal plant in the Colorado sunshine, the number of people ticketed represents a miniscule section of Friday's estimated 70,000 Civic Center attendees.
As more states continue to enact comprehensive cannabis reform laws over the coming years, the controversial plant's annual April celebration will no doubt run into new complications and old law enforcement officers still pushing prohibition. But if last weekend's mass celebration was any indicator, 4/20 will only grow larger and more mainstream each and every spring. It may be 360 days away, but we're already saving up our stash and making plans for next year.
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