Updated: Jul 12
Deemed an essential service when lockdowns were implemented during the early days of COVID-19, cannabis companies saw a boom in customer demand as people turned to medical and recreational forms of cannabis products to stave off the adverse physical and psychological effects of isolation.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) products were among the most popular cannabis forms used to help combat the PTSD-like effects of COVID-19. And as the pandemic showed no signs of ending in its early days, cannabis companies saw their customer base grow exponentially, with some even opening additional retail locations to meet the demand.
In the two years since the first COVID-19 cases were reported in China, the cannabis industry in the USA has seen a 46% increase in revenue and a 33% increase in the number of registered cannabis businesses.
While the pandemic may still be responsible for much economic strife and supply chain issues, one thing is for sure: customer demand for cannabis products has never been higher.
Cannabis In A Pre-COVID World
Before the COVID-19 pandemic that has claimed millions of lives, cannabis was slowly becoming more and more mainstream in the United States. By 2019, many states in the USA had decriminalized cannabis possession, and many others had implemented some form of legalization for personal or recreational use.
Pre-pandemic cannabis customers still made a pretty massive chunk of cash for businesses and states, generating over 10 billion dollars in sales.
Purchased through licensed dispensaries, cannabis products were primarily bought by those looking for a legal way to relax and escape the stresses of everyday life or combat chronic medical conditions such as pain, fatigue, and depression.
Available as flower, edibles, vape liquids, concentrates, and topicals, cannabis products were slowly making their way into the mainstream as people saw them as a healthier alternative to other forms of relaxation or medication.
But before the pandemic, cannabis was still stigmatized and criticized as a gateway drug that led to the use of other, more dangerous substances. However, much of that began to change when states mandated the first lockdowns for COVID-19 during the Trump Administration.
Cannabis & COVID-19: Surging Together
Once The World Health Organization deemed that the novel coronavirus was a global pandemic, the public began to fear for their lives and the lives of those around them.
This fear drove consumerism through the roof, causing the notorious Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020, among other hoarding incidents. And while many ran to the stores to clear out shelves for essential items such as canned foods, clean water, and flashlights, many others began to buy up cannabis products in case the pandemic led to more lockdowns and business closures.
As it became more apparent that the virus would not be disappearing anytime soon, people began to embrace cannabis as a way to escape the constant threat of infection and distract themselves from the stress of social isolation when other measures such as physical exercise weren't enough.
To spur the growing demand for cannabis products, dispensaries created ultra-convenient delivery and pick-up services that allowed customers to purchase cannabis without leaving their homes or apartment. This allowed people to buy cannabis products without the stigma of going into a dispensary or the fear of encountering a potential COVID-19 carrier.
This meant that the industry as a whole was able to see an increase in revenue from customers who would have otherwise been unwilling or unable to purchase cannabis before the pandemic.
By the time 2020 ended, the cannabis industry had seen over 17 billion dollars in revenue. Furthermore, 2020 also brought a 33% increase in cannabis businesses such as dispensaries, cultivation facilities, and infused product manufacturers.
While many thought the pandemic-driven cannabis boom may have ended when vaccines became readily available in 2021, many users have continued to rely on cannabis as a coping mechanism for the stresses of life after COVID-19. In fact, 2021 saw an even more significant increase in cannabis sales, with recent figures suggesting over 30 billion dollars in revenue.
With 15 states across the USA looking to enact legalized cannabis legislation in 2022, it would seem that the growth of the cannabis industry shows little signs of slowing down as the pandemic drags on into its third year.
Cannabis In a Post-COVID World
Whether or not the world will ever see an end to the COVID-19 pandemic remains to be seen. However, as the USA looks to replace revenues from industries decimated by the pandemic, it seems like a no-brainer that a push to legalize cannabis at the federal level would make for a healthier and more sustainable economy, considering the billions in revenue generated from cannabis sales since even before the pandemic started.
With the benefits of cannabis use being felt by those initially reluctant to embrace cannabis culture, more clinical studies and medical research will also likely emerge to back up the claims that the cannabis plant is safe and effective for treating a wide range of diseases and conditions.
These clinical studies would open the door to FDA-approved cannabis-based medications and provide a safer alternative to the still unregulated parts of the cannabis industry. Such a move would lead to many economic and social benefits, including a possible decline in the opioid crisis by providing a safer form of pain relief for those who have been long-time sufferers of chronic pain.
A Bright Future For Cannabis
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the cannabis industry in ways that could not have been predicted. It is likely to increase the demand for states to legalize and regulate cannabis for medical and recreational use.
Even as more cases continue to be reported, the pandemic has offered insight into the benefits of cannabis use and made it more apparent that there are significant economic gains to be had by legalizing and instituting regulations for the cannabis industry.
With increased demand and the growing number of clinical studies and cannabis-based medications, it would seem that the future is bright for those who rely on cannabis as a source of relief from the stresses of life.