Americans spent an estimated $17.9 billion on legal weed this year, exceeding 2019's sales record of $10.7 billion by 67 percent, according to state tax and revenue data analyzed by Leafly.
Industry analysts believe that the pandemic is largely responsible for this massive sales spike. In March, when lockdowns began, most states recognized that legal weed retailers are essential services and allowed them to continue sales. Sales peaked during an initial rush of panic buying, but after a brief slump, stayed high for the rest of the year. Over the course of 2020, pot shoppers increased their monthly weed spending by anywhere from 25 to 40 percent.
Thanks to this massive demand, several states began breaking weed sales records on a monthly basis. Colorado sold a record $2 billion worth of legal pot this year, and Oregon broke the $1-billion barrier for the first time in state history. This year, nine states — Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — more than doubled their legal weed sales compared to 2019.
And even though Florida has only legalized medical marijuana, the Sunshine State still sold $1.2 billion of weed, becoming the country's fourth-largest legal weed market. Other medical marijuana markets, including Oklahoma, Maine, and Arkansas also reported record sales this year.
This spring, an independent survey reported that over 73 percent of cannabis consumers were using pot to help them deal with COVID-related stress and anxiety. A similar study from October found that 72 percent of respondents named the pandemic as the leading cause of stress and burnout in their lives — and 40 percent said they were using weed to help combat that burnout. Another 37 percent said they were using CBD to cope, and 29 percent more said they might consider using weed to de-stress in 2021.
The pandemic is not the only reason behind this year's historic sales spike, though. Illinois and Michigan both kicked off their first full year of legal adult-use sales in 2020, and Maine finally began selling recreational pot after years of delays. And even in states where cannabis was already legal, new pot shops, delivery services, and expansions to medical marijuana laws all increased consumers' access to legal pot.
This year's estimated $18 billion in weed sales actually blew past analysts' prior prediction of $15 billion in sales for 2020. It's hard to predict what will happen in 2021, especially if the country finally emerges from the pandemic, but it seems unlikely that the demand for weed will shrink away. Five more states legalized adult-use sales this year, and one-third of the country's entire population now lives in a state where recreational pot is legal.