(NewsNation) — Marijuana sales are on the decline after skyrocketing during the COVID-19 pandemic but still remain at levels higher than in 2019, indicating sustained long-term growth in the industry.
The pandemic brought with it a boon for cannabis retailers, with monthly recreational sales soaring as high as $180 million in states such as Colorado. Oregon, Nevada and Washington also saw a boost in sales between March 2020 and June 2021.
“When the pandemic hit, folks were staying home and using cannabis both as a way to distract from and as a way to get through the pandemic,” said Amber Littlejohn, a lawyer who specializes in cannabis law and policy. “What we’re actually seeing is a bit of normalization of cannabis sales.”
Retail sales this year are all down in Washington, Oregon, California and Colorado, according to Headset, a cannabis data and research company. Nevada is seeing a small increase in year-over-year sales, at 0.44%.
Other states that have increased sales from last year are Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan, which has seen a whopping 31.88% growth.
While yearly sales are down in several states, the industry as a whole is still projected to do roughly $10 million more in sales than last year, Littlejohn said.
The cannabis industry exploded over the last decade as more and more states moved to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana. Recreational marijuana is now legal in 21 states, 14 of which legalized it after 2016, according to Ballotpedia. Most recently, voters in Maryland and Missouri approved recreational use this year.
When Joe Biden was elected president and Democrats took power in both the House and Senate, advocates were optimism legalization on the federal level would gain traction, too. The prohibition remains a hurdle for companies seeking investments and funds from banks, who typically don’t loan to cannabis companies because of the federal prohibition.
“The federal government still maintains cannabis prohibition, and so this makes it really difficult for investors to be willing to take that risk to invest in cannabis companies,” Littlejohn said. “That optimism (about legalization) is really waning.”