IN MARCH, AS a succession of European governments imposed lockdowns to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, Americans started to prepare for their own. Toilet paper, hand sanitiser and tinned food flew off the shelves, as did another product rarely seen on preppers’ checklists: cannabis. According to Headset, a company that analyses data for the cannabis industry, sales of marijuana products in California were up by 92.5% on March 16th when officials in seven San Francisco Bay Area counties ordered their 7m residents to shelter in place. When the entire state of California was ordered to stay at home by its governor on March 19th, sales were still up by over 45% (see chart).
For many marijuana enthusiasts, such stockpiling was not necessary. Eight states have classified recreational-marijuana retailers as “essential” businesses, along with pharmacies and supermarkets (though some suppliers have been forced to switch to delivery service only). States have also exempted medical-marijuana dispensaries from lockdowns. Such measures have helped boost sales. According to Cowen & Co, an investment bank, weekly sales last month in California, Colorado, Nevada and Washington were up by 17%, year on year; in the second half of March the average purchase price jumped by 47%. A March survey by Cowen found pot use at a record high.
The pandemic is affecting cannabis consumption in other ways, too. According to Headset, sales of cannabis-infused food and drink have risen compared with smoking and vaping products, suggesting that some people are changing how they get high. A survey by AmericanMarijuana.org, a site dedicated to marijuana news and reviews, found that a majority of users with lung problems are worried that smoking weed will make them more susceptible to the new coronavirus; a third of those without lung problems think the same thing.
Potheads, overall, appear to be driven by three main concerns. According to a recent survey, also by AmericanMarijuana.org, almost a quarter of respondents said they were worried about a potential shortage. Another 22% just wanted enough to maintain their habit while under quarantine. More than half, though, said that they were buying marijuana to “calm themselves” during the crisis. As Americans prepare for several more weeks under quarantine—the governors of seven north-eastern states recently extended their shutdown orders until May 15th—the impulse to stockpile may subside. The urge to toke up, however, may only get stronger.