Saint Patrick’s Day Eve represents the day the world changed for California. The Bay Area would officially enter lockdown the next day and L.A. would enter lockdown two days after the holiday as Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a mandatory statewide stay-at-home order – but the weed kept flowing.
There is a solid argument to be made that cannabis had the second most successful pandemic after Joe Biden, who used the idea of following the advice of medical professionals to ride his chariot of moderacy all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue.
While many businesses were forced to close, access to cannabis never stopped. Retailers, delivery services and industry organizations scrambled to implement effective measures to protect staff and customers. And they did well. The opposition would have loved to point to some dispensary super spreader event, but here we are. Certainly, people in the industry have got COVID, but it’s generally done a good job protecting the pack.
And it’s a good thing they did, because more people smoked pot. We’ll use the tax numbers to put it into perspective. California pulled in $177.3 million in the last quarter before COVID, which closed up fiscal 2019. The CDTFA announced in late February the state pulled in $236.4 million in the last quarter of 2020, and that doesn’t even include local taxes.
But the 3rd quarter of 2020 saw even more monster numbers at $318.9 million. That Q3 revenue number is a little over $30 million short of doubling Q4 of 2019. Nothing can quantify how much legal pot moved in California through the pandemic better than these numbers because most of the data sets we use to understand the industry rely on small sample sections of dispensaries and distributors willing to participate. Plenty of big names don’t participate.
There was a ton of good pot out there, but we can always do better. While the battle for top shelf supremacy remained fierce in 2020, we saw a lot of affordable options too. Glass House Farms dropped $35 MSRP Runtz on us. Carlos Santana decided he wanted to sell quarters of decent weed from Wine Country and further points north. These kinds of things were pretty cool, but knockoff mylar packaging proliferated even further on Alibaba through the pandemic. If I see anyone approach me with fake Devine Runtz, I’m going to cry on your Jordan 14s or Yeezys, which I would also likely presume to be knockoffs.
But regardless of those tears, we benefited from growers being stuck in their garden for a year. The genetics we’re seeing right now are spectacular. Gas strains with different notes, new takes on dessert weed. Here at L.A. Weekly, we’ve been particularly excited with new twists on Peanut Butter Breath, Jet Fuel Gelato and a bunch of other stuff we’ll cover in our Strains of The Pandemic.
Equity and Prisoners Coming Home
Another cool thing we loved from the pandemic was seeing equity brands win big if their door were already open. The brands that were already going benefited from the surge of cultural awareness around race and criminal justice in America since these companies were literally born at the root of the issue well before what happened last summer. The most unfortunate part of the whole pandemic, in regard to cannabis, may be that more equity brands that were trying to open their doors were hit by the bottlenecks associated with the world closing.
But apart from that setback, the equity conversation is bigger than ever. When there is an absence of it, or attempts to move the conversation forward without it, the calls to include it are louder than ever. And this isn’t just us being some pro-social justice charity cases outlet. The fact of the matter is a lot of these brands have awesome products. Supporting communities hit the hardest by the war on drugs is such a positive thing.
And finally, the pandemic saw more federal cannabis prisoners return to their families. This happened through COVID-related events with certain at-risk prisoners, or via clemency.