4/20 Cannabis Sales Break Records but Fall Short of Expectations

(John Locher/AP)

Official state sales data from this year’s 4/20 won’t be available for a few weeks, but analysts are already projecting this year’s high holiday of cannabis was the biggest on record—at least in terms of state-legal sales.

A handful of third-party estimates have now been made on the size and scope of this year’s festivities. One forecast, by sales platform LeafLink, pegged nationwide cannabis sales at roughly $1.17 billion, according to USA Today. Another retail platform, Flowhub, announced that nationwide sales on Friday were 51% higher than on a typical day—and about 30% more than what stores saw on last year’s 4/20. In virtually every legal state, sales were estimated to have shattered numbers from last year’s 4/20.

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But while the legal industry continues to grow, it’s not keeping pace with expectations in the country’s largest cannabis market: California.

Annual spending on legal cannabis in North America is expected to nearly quintuple over the next decade, growing from $9.2 billion in 2017 to an estimated $47.3 billion in 2027.

That state, which is still struggling to encourage growers and other businesspeople to obtain state licenses, has seen sales lag behind what officials had estimated. Large swaths of the state still ban cannabis businesses, and high tax rates have slowed consumers’ transition to the legal market. According to BDS Analytics, sales in California are currently trending about 11.5% below forecasts.

It’s nevertheless an enormous market, with sales during the first two months of 2018 estimated to have hit approximately $339 million, putting California on pace to easily exceed Colorado’s roughly $1.5 billion in sales last year.

According to a BDS report from February, annual spending on legal cannabis in North America is expected to nearly quintuple over the next decade, growing from $9.2 billion in 2017 to an estimated $47.3 billion in 2027. The report predicted that the global cannabis market by 2027 will be worth more than $57 billion ($38.3 billion for adult-use cannabis, $19.1 billion for medical).

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Another report, released last week by analytics firm New Frontier Data, projects the legal cannabis industry in the US alone will grow to $25 billion by 2025.

While official 4/20 sales numbers should be released by state regulators in the coming month, analysts’ long-term projections are as much guesswork as science. As recent months and years have demonstrated, the political winds around cannabis can change unexpectedly—and in a hurry.