Washington's yearly cannabis sales have declined for the very first time since the state opened its first adult-use shops in 2014.
In 2015, the first fiscal year that Washington's recreational cannabis dispensaries were open for business, sales only clocked in at around $180 million. Sales have expanded rapidly ever since, though, eventually hitting the $1 billion mark in FY 2019. The following year, retailers set a new record of $1.3 billion and then broke that record again in 2021 with $1.5 billion in sales.
Nearly a decade of exponential growth came to a grinding halt this year. According to the state Liquor and Cannabis Board, cannabis retailers only sold $1.4 billion worth of weed in the 2022 fiscal year, which ran from July 2021 to June 2022. That's a decline of about $120 million, or 8% lower than the prior fiscal year. But even with this decrease, 2022 is still the second-best selling year for Washington's legal pot industry.
State officials aren't too worried about the dip, which they believe is a second-best-selling natural result of the global cannabis market returning to normal after the pandemic. When most companies shut their doors in March 2020, pot shops stayed open for business. Weed lovers started stocking up on legal weed as the pandemic started to spread, hoping to relieve the anxiety and boredom of the lockdown.
The US government also handed out billions of dollars in unemployment money over the past two years, and many Americans wisely chose to spend this free cash on legal weed. This explosion of demand helped the US weed industry grow by 67% in 2020 and even further last year. But now that the feds have turned off the faucet and most people have returned to work, cannabis sales have started to contract.
“What you’re seeing as a ‘dip’ is really sales returning to normal growth as more people returned to in-person work,” explained Brian Smith, spokesperson for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board, to the Seattle Times.
This very same dip has been seen in every mature US cannabis market this year. In Colorado, which has been selling legal weed as long as Washington has, year-to-date adult-use sales dropped by 16% from 2021 to 2022 and medical marijuana sales plunged by 42%. Nevada's adult-use market also shrank by 16% this year, and Oregon's mature recreational market contracted by 15% as well. Retail weed prices are also plunging in Massachusetts and other states, which may well cut into annual sales figures.
Meanwhile, new cannabis markets are seeing the same kind of exponential growth that Washington saw in its first seven years of operation. Less than two years after legalizing, Arizona is now challenging Colorado's long-held title as the second-largest legal weed market in the US. Michigan is also edging its way into the top five best-selling cannabis markets, with over $200 million in monthly sales.