Cannabis consumer patterns swerve under quarantine: Pre-rolls are down, beverages are up, women are everywhere and flower’s on top

Cannabis consumer patterns swerve under quarantine: Pre-rolls are down, beverages are up, women are everywhere and flower’s on top

Cannabis customers are acting funny, in these uncertain times

VicesApril 07, 2020 By Will Brendza

On March 23rd the Denver Mayor, Michael Hancock announced that all cannabis and liquor stores would be closing until the “Stay at Home” order was over.

What followed was nothing short of complete pandemonium, according to those in the industry.

“We had lines at all my shops, around the corner, the whole rest of the day,” says Ally Feiler, the founder and CEO of Greentree Medicinals.

And Greentree wasn’t the only shop experiencing that. People bum-rushed dispensaries across Denver and even throughout Colorado at large. To put it into perspective: the days preceding that announcement had already been big sales days for the cannabis industry. Sales volumes throughout the state were already 40% higher than normal from March 16th to March 22nd — Coloradoans were already stocking up. COVID had already changed their buying patterns.

But on the 23rd, when Hancock tried closing the City’s dispensaries, sales throughout the state jumped to 60% of normal; and in Denver specifically, sales volumes jumped to 120% of normal. Take a look at this graph, from Inside Headset, a market-level data analysis company, showing "percent of previous days sales" — the disruption is not hard to spot (Colorado is in red). 

Image courtesy of Inside Headset.

“All our stores just went berserk,” says Lisa Gee, the marketing director for Lightshade Dispensaries. “And everyone that was operating in the Denver metro saw the same kind of explosion of business.”

Many in the industry weren’t sure whether to send Hancock cookies, or go TP his house. On the one hand, they were raking in green almost as fast as it was moving out the door. On the other hand, they were running at full steam, all hands on-deck, and exposing their employees to hundreds and hundreds of customers in very quick succession.

Hancock backpedaled shortly thereafter, reversing his decision. Whether because of public outcry, or because of the threat of crowds gathering at dispensaries (or some combination of the two) we may never know. But not long after that cannabis and liquor were deemed “essential” and the madness leveled out.

Sort of.

Because, things are still weird for dispensaries — they’ve had to navigate extremely uncertain waters to stay up with regulatory changes through all this. And, consumer purchasing habits have been all over the place. Things have been shifting since well-before Hancock tried closing the dispensaries, but when he dropped that bomb it made a splash that affected everything: from the frequency of cannabis sales, to the demographics buying cannabis, and even to consumer’s product preferences.

All of that has shifted in the face of COVID-19, and it’s generated some very interesting statistics.

Take, for instance, pre-rolls. According to Inside Headset, in Colorado the sale of pre-rolls dropped by about 5% just on the 23rd (the day of Hancock’s announcement). And throughout the US, pre-roll sales have been down by about 13% since the COVID-19 crisis began. It’s a trend that Canada is experiencing as well.

Image courtesy of Inside Headset.

Why? It’s a good question. Maybe people buy pre-rolls mostly for smoke-seshes with friends, parties, get-togethers or concerts — without which, they have no real reason to buy them. Maybe with all this free-quarantine-time people have decided to hone their own rolling skills at home. Or, maybe, pre-rolls are just a luxury people don’t want to spend that extra buck on.

Regardless of what might have caused that shift, people leaned away from pre-rolls almost across the board and leaned more heavily into just about everything else (except topicals). Edibles were at 28% of normal sales, flower was at 12%, vapor pens at 9%, capsules 7%, tinctures 6% and concentrates at 4% of normal. Just about all THC products sold in the US saw some kind of boost.


Perhaps most surprisingly, though, a lot of people jumped at the cannabis beverages. Beverage sales, which usually make up one of the smallest niches for cannabis products, were up to 14% above average sales. A leap, which can likely be attributed to impulse buying.  People were in the shops, they were making a large purchase, and decided to add a pot-soda. Because, what the hell? Why not?

Normally, males account for around two-thirds of cannabis sales in Colorado. On March 23rd, however, the ladies showed up at dispensaries in far greater numbers than usual. The cannabis purchases made by women erupted — rising to 31.7% of normal! While, purchases made by their male counter-parts rose by only 15.6%.

Image courtesy of Inside Headset.

Infer from that what you will.

Then you’ve got the age demographics. Which, as interesting as they are, aren’t really all that surprising: every generation younger than the baby boomers saw an increase in cannabis sales. The largest of which came from Gen Z (42.1% of normal), closely followed by Gen X (34.5% of normal) and then Millennials (29.3% of normal). Baby boomer’s rate of cannabis sales actually dropped by 2.1% — though, their amount per purchase went up.

Image courtesy of Inside Headset.

These stats paint an interesting picture. They show where people’s pot priorities lie when shit gets real. And the changes aren’t over for the cannabis industry — not from the regulatory side, and not from the consumer side — not by a long shot.

Some of the deviations in this data will level off in the coming weeks (I assure you, people will eventually regain their interest in pre-rolls). But until the stay at home order is lifted, until people can shop normally at dispensaries, until life flips back right-side up and people can go back to work (and stop smoking weed all day), cannabis consumer behavior will likely continue to be unpredictable.

But as long as people are buying things, the dispensaries don’t really care what it is they're buying. It’s all green to them.