Legal cannabis sales in America continue to be brisk in every state where the drug is sold over-the-counter—and they continue to defy expectations.
American consumers have a far greater appetite for marijuana than economists, accountants and other estimators thought. As sales figures from Oregon reveal, actual legal cannabis sales have outstripped some projections by more than six times.
In Oregon, through the first three months of the year, roughly 11,000 pounds of cannabis were legally sold in the state’s approximately 300 legal dispensaries, for total sales revenue of $43.7 million, according to a recent report from the state Department of Revenue, published last week by KATU-2 News.
During that time, cannabis sales generated $13.4 million worth of sales tax revenue. Of that, 40 percent goes to schools and 20 percent to addiction treatment.
That all sounds nice. But consider: These were the slow months. For the rest of the year, sales climbed rapidly. By October, sales had doubled from March, for total sales receipts of $60.2 million, as Willamette Week reported, which is six times greater than post-legalization estimates dating from 2015.
So Oregonians and their visitors have a mighty thirst for legal cannabis. And that’s good! Because Oregon is facing a $1.8 billion budget deficit, a fiscal abyss even black-market marijuana sales couldn’t fix, were the state to supply the rest of the country with its illicit cannabis (as some law enforcement authorities suggest it is).
More than half of all marijuana sold in Oregon is sold (surprise) in and around the Portland metro area. Nearly three million grams of cannabis flower, worth more than $26 million, were sold in the area during the first three months of 2016, with more than $18 million sold in Portland proper alone.
Despite the slow start, total sales for the year were on pace to hit $200 million, or more than 60,000 pounds’ worth. That’s a lot—and it is, try to carry all that home in one trip—but it’s a tiny percentage of Oregon’s total cannabis-growing capacity, according to authorities.
A recent police estimate, leaked to and published in the Oregonian, posits that the state’s marijuana growers may be able to produce at least 265,000 surplus pounds, above and beyond what’s legally sold in stores, with a street value of more than $5 billion.
The Oregon State Police, by the way, receives 15 percent of the marijuana taxes, money they use to compile reports such as that.
Perhaps the cops have a point, as cannabis sales in the first two states to legalize the drug in America have steadily increased year-over-year to exceed $1 billion—and Oregon has a long way to go before that peak is reached.
Colorado recorded $1.3 billion worth of legal marijuana sales in 2016. While there are no gram-by-gram statistics available as there are in Oregon, the lion’s share—two-thirds, or nearly $900 million—was at recreational dispensaries, as the Cannabist reported. In Washington, sales were approaching the $1 billion mark.
Keep in mind that 2016 was the first full year of recreational marijuana sales in Oregon, which legalized retail sales of cannabis for adults 21 and over in 2014. Retail dispensaries opened the following fall. If Oregon follows the trajectory of the other two states, those initial guesses, made by educated people who do this sort of thing for a living, will be reduced in value to a child’s scribble made on the underside of a soiled napkin. Considering the budget pickle Oregon is in, that’s a very good thing.