Arizonans coping with the pandemic are buying more medical marijuana than ever before, with sales hitting a monthly program record again in May.
The latest report on the state-run weed program shows that dispensaries sold more than 18,083 pounds of total cannabis products last month. That's an increase of 5.8 percent over the previous record from March, when patients bought 17,095 pounds as the coronavirus pandemic set off a buying spree. May's total sales also represent a blistering 31.3 percent increase over sales in May 2019.
After the March record, sales took a dip in April to 16,531 total pounds. But the new numbers show that cannabis sales are remaining strong in the stay-at-home culture.
A breakdown of the stats show that May sales included 16,270 pounds of flower, 456 pounds of edibles (that's the cannabis inside the edibles, not the food or drink it's infused in), and 1,356 pounds of "other," which means concentrates like vape-cartridge juice and shatter.
The number of patients also took a big jump in May to its high total ever of 245,533. That's about 10,000 more patients than in April, a significant increase considering that the patient ranks increased by only about 5,000 from March to April. It's also about 23 percent higher than the May 2019 patient count. At this pace, it's seems safe to predict that the milestone of a quarter-million Arizona medical marijuana patients will probably be hit sometime this month.
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Growth in the state's medical marijuana industry has been growing in leaps and bounds since the first dispensaries opened in December 2012, following narrow voter approval of the program in November 2010. Large sales increases year over year came to be expected by Arizona dispensaries. But the coronavirus, in a twisted way, has proved to be the perfect fertilizer for the cannabis industry.
Sam Richard, executive director of the Arizona Dispensaries Association, offered several speculations for the spike of the last three months, starting with his gratitude to Governor Doug Ducey for following the lead of other states and making medical marijuana an essential business that could remain open during the stay-at-home order from April to mid-May.
The initial pandemic fears in mid-March sparked some panicked buying as many patients stocked up, fearing that a national quarantine order could be imminent, he said.
He mentioned that people staying at home is a likely contributing factor. That seems like a good bet: Unemployed people may have more time on their hands to medicate, and bosses can't see what patients are doing when they're working from home all day.
Richard noted that while anxiety and depression are not qualifying ailments for the state program, "much as been reported" about the use of cannabis to treat those conditions.
"This current moment is establishing that as a beneficial use," he said.
He also pointed out that the percentage increase in edibles and concentrates has been slightly higher over the last three months than the increase in flower, which could indicate a desire by more patients to forego smoking as a disease that attacks the respiratory system runs rampant.
Steve White, CEO of Harvest, said that the latest statistics "tell a story."
"Here, we are learning that the regulated cannabis industry in Arizona will continue to develop even when the world as we know it changes," White said. "It's a testament to strong regulators and operators across the state serving patients."
The Arizona Dispensaries Association, of which Harvest is a member, is hoping to put an adult legalization measure on the November ballot called the Smart and Safe Act. The campaign says it has collected far in excess of the 237,645 valid voter signatures it needs to turn in by the state's deadline of July 2 to qualify for the ballot.
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Richard said the medical program probably brings in about $4 million to $4.5 million per month in sales tax to the state, based on a tax rate of 5.6 percent and an average of $275 an ounce. If voters approve the legalization measure, cannabis sales would double or triple from today's numbers, he predicted.
Under the measure, the state would collect its normal sales tax, plus an excise tax of 16 percent.
See the full May 2020 report from the AZ DHS below: