This pandemic has taught us at least three things:
• Teachers deserve twice what we pay them.
• Americans have, at best, a rudimentary understanding of how to properly wash their hands.
• Oregonians found the lockdown to be far more bearable with the addition of cannabis. TONS of cannabis, literally.
It also may have served as a tipping point in legalization, gaining support for both its ability to relax and soothe the savage homebound beast, while raising revenue for programs that help those with addiction issues, many of whom found their challenges exacerbated by the virus.
Pacific Wonderlandians have always enjoyed their weed. We were the first to decriminalize small amounts back in 1973, legalized medical cannabis in 1998, and passed recreational cannabis in 2014. The sales from that program grew modestly, until March of 2020.
That’s when Governor Brown announced that Oregonians needed to keep their damn asses at home. Faced with the numerous challenges of doing so, people began purchasing cannabis in earnest, the process of which was eased by a loosening of rules to allow curbside pick up and numerous dispensaries offering delivery.
In March 2020, regulated cannabis sales jumped 20 percent. In April 2020, those sales increased to $89 million, a 45 percent increase from April 2019. May 2020 gave us the first month of sales ever to top $100 million, which continued throughout the summer, hitting a record high of $106 million in July. 2020 recreational cannabis sales were up 38 percent to more than $1 billion, up from $795 million in 2019, and the first time the state sold that much cannabis in a year. Way to toke up, team.
Those sales moved 2020 state tax revenues to an expected $150 million, while local taxes topped $21 million through November 2020.
Thanks to a newly passed law, Measure 110, the state examined redistribution of cannabis tax revenue, which as OPB explains “would take some cannabis tax revenue that’s been allocated to schools and other programs, and redirect it into a new state grant fund dedicated to addiction treatment” and establish a dozen or so “Addiction and Recovery Centers” to “conduct the health assessments people need to complete to avoid being fined for drug possession (and) provide peer support and case management, connecting people to health care, pay for addiction treatment, housing for people with substance use disorder, and harm reduction services like needle exchanges.”
The reasons people took up the Devil’s Lettuce in increasing numbers included: dealing with the stress, insomnia, fear, and boredom that came from sheltering in place while living through a once in a century international pandemic, finding that working from home allowed consumption opportunities not previously available, as a tool to navigate the challenges of being with other household members nearly every goddamn minute of every goddamn day even though you love them dearly, and to enhance the daily eight or more hours of “eat, Netflix, chill, then more eating” many of us undertook. (The “Quarantine 15” is real, y’all.)
Cannabis also served as a welcome alternative to the cause of, and answer to, all of life’s problems, alcohol.
In a poll of 2,000 respondents 21 and over reported on by Forbes, “Of those who said that they have ever used cannabis, 42 percent said that they had either started or increased their consumption during the pandemic, while 45 percent said they had replaced or reduced alcohol use with cannabis.”
That includes parents, who took on new and undesired roles of teaching assistant, IT support, and full time juvenile mental health counselor. The poll shows that “more than half of parents who have ever consumed cannabis (57 percent) reported that their use of marijuana replaced or reduced alcohol consumption.”
Granted, as bars and restaurants reopen, those numbers may change. But this record breaking use has served to build support for expanded legalization, as consumers found that an increased use of cannabis has not resulted in the many dire predictions of prohibitionists.
During the 2020 elections, four states—Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota and Mississippi goddam—passed medical or recreational cannabis programs. This means 36 states and four territories now have medical cannabis programs, and 15 states and three territories have recreational adult use programs.
“The new normal” is a phrase applied to every aspect of what we expect/hope a post pandemic world will look like, as we recognize the systems in place have failed us—economic, education, professional, and more. Increasing legal access to cannabis is gaining interest and support, be it for the kaleidoscope-like range of perspectives and relief it provides, and/or the recognition of cannabis as an economic engine. Oregon has over 61,000 active Marijuana Worker permits, and even without full federal legalization, changes in state, city, and county laws could provide a windfall in tax revenue from cannabis tourism which provides for legal consumption at lodging, events, and clubs.
As a commodity or medicine, the value of cannabis has never been more clear.