The nice thing about a rapidly-growing industry is the proliferation of new data and insights. We scoured the internet to find the most important and relevant marijuana statistics for North America for 2021.
In this report, you’ll see marijuana consumption stats, the national sentiment around weed acceptance, cannabis market growth, employment trends, and legal facts.
Let’s dive into the findings.
- 12% of Americans are active marijuana users.
- Nationwide cannabis sales increased 67% in 2020.
- Support for legal marijuana is at an all-time high of 68%.
- The U.S. cannabis industry is worth $61 billion.
- Cannabis capital raises declined 67% in 2020.
- Senior-level salaries increased in 2020.
1. Marijuana usage statistics
12% of Americans identified as “current users”
The most recent Gallup poll (from 2019), shows that 12% of Americans are active marijuana users, which is down slightly (from 13% in 2016).
From 2013 to 2016, the number of people who use marijuana nearly doubled. Since then, the rate of use has stayed relatively flat.
22% of Americans aged 18 – 25 used marijuana in the past month
The National Institute of Drug Abuse shows lower numbers compared to Gallup for their most recent survey (2018).
That survey has 8.6% of individuals over 26 years of age identifying as having used marijuana in the past month (which correlates to the Gallup criteria for being a current user). This number is up from 7.9% in their 2017 study.
Meanwhile, 22.1% of 18 – 25-year-olds say they’ve used marijuana in the past month. Half of all people over 18 have used marijuana in their lifetime.
Worldwide, the United Nations estimates that 192 million people used marijuana in 2018.
Cannabis consumers diversified (though gender is nearing 50/50)
The cannabis consumer continues to diversify.
The 2020 report from Eaze, a cannabis delivery service in the San Francisco Bay Area, shows the divide in gender disappearing, especially in the boomer age group.
Regarding age, Eaze’s 2019 report showed consumers age 50+ increasing by 105%. They also purchased 67% more topicals than in 2018.
2020 sales by generation from dispensaries using Flowhub shows the generational breakdown of customers as:
2020 Cannabis Sales by Generation
- Gen Z17%
- Gen X23%
- Silent Gen1%
- Gen Z17%
- Gen X21%
- Silent Gen1%
Similarly, cannabis data firm, Headset, found that from 2019 to 2020, Generation Z had 127% sales growth, compared to just 5% for boomers.
This could be due to Gen Z aging into the market every day, but the pandemic also played a role in older generations and their willingness to go out and shop (or use ecommerce).
Nationwide sales increased 67% in 2020
Analysts attribute this massive increase both to changing public perception, but also to the pandemic. More home-bound than ever, and with ongoing fear of shutdowns, people stocked up on cannabis to the tune of nearly $18 billion.
Flowhub data from the State of the Cannabis Industry 2020 report shows the percent change in total sales from 2019 to 2020.
Even during the summer of 2020, when most states were shut down, dispensaries saw increased average order size and thus, increased revenue, even as people shopped less frequently.
Delivery and online ordering reigned supreme
Online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery were big trends in 2020 that helped consumers get their products quickly and safely.
According to Eaze, in the 30 days following the March 13 declaration of a national emergency, new delivery customer sign-ups jumped by nearly 60%.
Similarly, the State of the Cannabis Industry found that stores with order ahead enabled sold 22% more on average compared to stores without order ahead. Not surprisingly, tech companies in cannabis ecommerce, like Dutchie, dramatically increased their market share in 2020.
Cannabis product type preferences changed
As consumers change, so do their THC preferences.
In 2019, Eaze saw vape sales decrease by 15% after “vape gate.” Those consumers turned toward edibles (up 24% in Oct. 2019).
2020 followed suit, with edibles being the most popular product category, accounting for 22% of all sales for Eaze.
Speculation was that because COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, consumers would shift away from inhalables.
Leaflink, a cannabis industry wholesale marketplace, found that at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, inhalables remained popular. And that trend continued throughout 2020, despite flower shortages in some key states like California and Colorado.
14% of Americans used CBD products
CBD is a broad category, and has hit mainstream since becoming federally legal in 2018. While marijuana users and CBD users may be different, it’s important to note usage in this group.
According to Gallup, 14% of all U.S. adults use CBD. This jumps to 20% for those ages 18-29.
Perhaps most interesting is the question of familiarity with CBD products: 49% of those age 65+ are unfamiliar with CBD (compared to just 26% of those age 18-29).
The same study found the most common reasons for using CBD include:
- Pain – 40%
- Anxiety – 20%
- Sleep/Insomnia – 11%
- Arthritis – 8%
- Migraines/Headaches – 5%
2. Acceptance of recreational marijuana
Recreational use is legal in 12 U.S. states
As of January 2021, 12 states have legalized the use of recreational cannabis (in addition to medical marijuana) for individuals over age 21: California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Colorado, Nevada, Vermont, Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Arizona (plus the District of Columbia).
During the 2020 election, Arizona voted to legalize recreational and started sales in late January. Montana and New Jersey also voted to legalize adult-use. South Dakota voted in favor of medical and recreational simultaneously.
Two in three Americans support marijuana legalization
The first time Gallup took the same poll, in 1969, just 12% of American held the same view.
Currently 48% of Republicans and 83% of Democrats are in favor, showing that recreational legalization at the state level in Republican-dominated states still has a way to go. Between 2018 and 2020, Republican support for legalization decreased (from 53% to 48%), while Democrat support jumped (from 71% to 83%).
That said, several traditionally red states have entered the cannabis market with gusto, including Oklahoma.
3. Growth of the medical marijuana market
Medical cannabis is now legal in 34 US states
Cannabis is also now legal in 34 states for medical purposes: Hawaii, Montana, Rhode Island, New Mexico, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, North Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Missouri. And the 12 states that also have recreational marijuana: California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Colorado, Nevada, Vermont, Michigan, Massachusetts, Illinois, Arizona, and the District of Columbia.
Election day 2020 was big for medical marijuana: Mississippi voted to legalize medical, and South Dakota passed legislation for both med and rec.
Time from medical to recreational to first sale shortened
As the industry matures, we’re seeing significantly less time from when medical weed is first legalized, to the first recreational sale.
According to Marijuana Business Daily, California took 7,308 days from med to rec to first sale. Massachusetts, just 1,463 days.
4. Cannabis market opportunity
The U.S. cannabis industry is worth $61 billion
Every year, analysts predict what the cannabis industry is worth. And every year that number exceeds expectations.
The U.S. cannabis industry is now projected to be worth $100 billion USD by 2030.
For reference, in 2019, Wall Street’s top cannabis analyst, Cowen Vivien Azer, predicted it’d be $80 billion by 2030.
Illinois: first year of MMJ sales topped $1 billion
Recreational sales started in Illinois in January 2020, and total sales numbers (including both med and rec) topped $1 billion dollars by December.
That’s over 14.5 million products sold — with 25% going to out-of-state residents.
States smashed prior years’ sales records, despite COVID-19
2020 was an odd year, with the onset of a global pandemic, quickly-changing local regulations, and an eventual “essential” status for cannabis businesses.
Throughout all this, though, several states crushed prior year sales records, including mature markets like California, Oregon, and Colorado.
Marijuana Business Daily says experts expect this trend of increasing market size to continue.
Cannabis capital raises declined in 2020
Investments into cannabis brands, including capital raises, slowed dramatically in 2020.
However, once dispensaries were deemed essential, investors showed renewed interest. $2.6 billion was raised in the first half of 2020 — a 67% decline.
However, following a Democratic election, North American cannabis companies raised over $1.6 billion in January 2021 alone.
5. Employment demand
2020 staffing stalled during COVID-19; resumed pace by year-end
The 2020 Cannabis Industry Salary Guide from staffing agency, Vangst, found that most companies were planning to increase headcount in 2020.
However, the immediate reaction once the pandemic swept the U.S. was to maintain or even reduce headcount.
Hiring bounced back by Fall 2020. And while mature markets, like Denver, LA, Portland, and Seattle were hotspots for hiring cannabis-experienced professionals, the place to look for job seekers wanting to enter the industry are new legal marijuana markets are Detroit, Boston, Chicago, Tulsa, St. Louis, Reno, Tucson, Newark, and Philly.
Senior-level cannabis salaries increased in 2020
According to Vangst’s survey of marijuana industry professionals, median salary for retail roles increased in 2020 (compared to 2019).
Dispensary General Manager salaries increased by 13% and Director of Retail Operations saw a healthy 22% increase.
See the report for details on salaries for retailers, cultivators, extractors, and more.
20,000 new cannabis jobs expected in 5 years
As new states enter the legal market, with it comes new cannabis workers.
Vangst found that in the new states alone — Montana, South Dakota, New Jersey, Arizona, and Mississippi — 26,000 new jobs are expected in the next five years. Nearly 20,000 jobs are anticipated in New Jersey alone.
Thousands of cannabis jobs are currently posted on Glassdoor nationwide.
6. Legal updates
Cannabis won the 2020 elections
Every cannabis-related ballot measure in 2020 passed, including a few new medical markets, and several new recreational markets.
South Dakota was the first state to legalize medical and recreational marijuana at the same time.
And with 1 in 3 Americans now living in legal states, the rest of the U.S. is facing pressure to legalize as well.
Immediately after the election, with Joe Biden winning and Democrats taking control of the House and Senate, legalization conversations intensified.
New York, followed by the rest of the Northeast, is making headlines with plans to move legalization forward, recognizing the economic impact and tax revenue of legalization and the desire to stay competitive with neighboring states.
Democratic Senators eye federal legalization
In early February 2021, top Democratic Senators made waves with talks of legalizing marijuana federally. The conversation went from “if” to “when.”
While any decision and corresponding nationwide changes would be slow, this proves to be the first time that conversations are likely to move past both the House and Senate.
New U.S. Cannabis Council advocates for federal legalization
Several top cannabis businesses, associations, and advocacy organizations joined to create the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC).
The mission of the council is to “align and unify its members’ collective voices to advance cannabis reform” and also to “focus on securing federal reforms that advance social equity and promote fair, safe, and well-regulated markets nationwide as states continue legalizing cannabis at a rapid rate.”
Five licensing consultants, attorneys and operators who have secured licenses in competitive cannabis markets share tips on how to create a winning dispensary license application.
Winning a coveted dispensary license is your golden ticket into the competitive cannabis market. The license application process is more demanding than ever, and it can be tricky to navigate all the nuances—especially if you’ve never done it before. But there are a few secrets to creating an application that stands out.
Cannabis Dispensary spoke with five licensing consultants, attorneys and operators who have secured licenses in competitive cannabis markets:
Jonathan Havens, co-chair of the Cannabis Law Practice at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP, resident in the firm’s Baltimore and Washington, D.C., offices.
Erin Alexander, associate general counsel for Cresco Labs, a Chicago-based cannabis grower, processor and retailer operating in seven states.
Sara Gullickson, CEO of Item 9 Labs Corp., a publicly traded cannabis company specializing in the development of cannabis products and proprietary delivery platforms. Gullickson also owns the Strive Life of North Dakota dispensary, and Strive Wellness of Nevada LLC, a medical cannabis cultivation and processing facility with distribution rights. Gullickson previously served as the CEO and founder of Dispensary Permits, a nationally recognized cannabis consulting firm that won multiple cannabis licenses across more than a dozen competitive state markets.
John Darwin, founder and president of ONE Cannabis Group, a vertically integrated cannabis operator and franchisor based in Denver.
Armen Yemenidjian, co-founder and CEO of Integral Associates LLC, a retail and wholesale cannabis operator that has been awarded licenses in Nevada and California. Integral Associates operates Essence Cannabis Dispensary on the Las Vegas strip, as well as Desert Grown Farms and Cannabiotix NV, its cultivation and processing facilities.
Here are their tips on how to create a winning dispensary license application.
1. Understand your state’s application quirks.
Sara Gullickson: “This industry, specifically the licensing process, is still very new. Each state has its idiosyncrasies, and the application process in Pennsylvania was much different than in Hawaii or Arizona. In some states, specifically California and Michigan, you have to get local jurisdiction support in addition to the state’s blessing. In those situations, the municipality’s application process is more rigorous than the state’s.”
2. Secure real estate with the appropriate zoning.
Erin Alexander: “The first step is looking at the regulations to figure out the setback requirements—where can you be, where can’t you be: 1,000 feet from a church, 500 feet from a school? Finding real estate is the most difficult and challenging part of the process; finding places that meet the setback requirements, but also meet your requirements to be able to operate the business. Have Plan A, Plan B and Plan C, because everything ends up being more complicated than you anticipated.”
Jonathan Havens: “Make sure you can put your dispensary where you want to put it. In some states, the siting process is part of the application process, but sometimes you’ll get a pre-award from the state and then you need to go to the town, and that’s where people get tripped up. Having zoning approval from the local [municipality] is critical.”
3. Establish security protocols.
Havens: “Remember that the product you’re dealing with is federally illegal, so security is very important. Even though these states say you can sell it in a dispensary, they want to make sure you have a very tight control over what you’re selling. If you can’t control your product and it’s getting into people’s hands who are underage or don’t have a medical card, that’s the quickest way to lose your license. States are very focused on that, so you can’t overlook having a strong plan in your application to address security.”
Dispensary Do’s & Don’ts
DO: Pursue the industry because your skill-set complements this business.
DON’T: Pursue the industry for profits only.
DO: Over-plan and research: Dedicate a significant amount of time and energy to the project.
DON’T: Under-plan: Thinking this will be a walk in the park will land your application in the loser’s pile.
DO: Ensure your entity is all-inclusive: Diversity matters.
DON’T: Only include wealthy white men.
DO: Save for a rainy day: If you think your venture is going to be $500,000, multiply that by four and raise that much capital.
DON’T: Try to fund the project solo: You will most likely come up short. Cannabis businesses are more expensive than you think!
DO: Call an industry expert.
DON’T: Think, ‘It’s just dispensing a plant.’ It’s much more complicated. You will save time, energy and heartache if you call in a pro.
DO: Rethink real estate: Retrain your brain on what’s a good location—it’s where the city will have you, not in a high-traffic strip mall.
DON’T: Undervalue how much time it will take you to secure a building/location: This is not a typical landlord-tenant relationship.
— Sara Gullickson, CEO, Item 9 Labs Corp.
4. Build a strong team with experience.
John Darwin: “Assemble a great team. Licenses are getting more and more competitive, so someone with a strong pharmaceutical background [for medical dispensaries] or a good government relations background is a great addition to your team. Make sure your team has operating experience. A lot of these licenses are merit-based, so being able to reference a track record of compliance and operational excellence in another state is huge. Also do background checks on all of your team members, because there are key items that can come up and derail the whole process.”
Havens: “Having an accountant who has worked with clients in the cannabis space is critical. You don’t want to be their guinea pig while they learn the accounting and tax rules. Also have strong legal support, whether that’s an in-house attorney and/or an outside law firm with experience, because questions are going to come up that need quick answers, and you want to have them in your contact list when those questions come up.”
5. Get involved with the local community.
Alexander: “I think the best piece of advice is: Be connected to the community where you want to locate. That can be the secret sauce to winning an application. A lot of people know how to run a dispensary, but you have to spend the time attending city council meetings and engaging with local elected officials so they trust you and so they understand what you can bring to the community. Part of that is also engaging with civic and charitable organizations, finding out what the local priorities are, so you can be a good neighbor and a good steward of the community values.”
Havens: “A lot of people overlook an aspect of the application that I’m always quick to tell clients to focus on, which is community engagement and education. You can understand the opposition if you take the time to get out and have educational events that show that you’re not just trying to make money, but you really do care about the community. If you have events that are open to the community, not just people who are purchasing your product, you might win people over and you might ward off potential opposition down the road.”
Gullickson: “Research the specific town or jurisdiction and figure out: ‘Is it red or blue? What are the pain points in the community; are they environmental or are they opiate-related?’ Then pull in some community leaders who focus on those pain points, to make sure you’re hyper-focused on the community. We put together sophisticated community benefits programs that address how we’re going to give back. We build parks, we build sidewalks, we’ve funded little league teams and hosted clothing drives—whatever the area needs. When you contribute to your communities, they’re so much more welcoming.”
6. Budget more capital than you think you’ll need.
Alexander: “It can get expensive. You’re obviously going to need application fees and license fees, which can range from a $500 application fee to a $30,000 license fee that you might get refunded if you don’t win. But then you’ve got property hold fees. You’re going to be paying attorneys to review documents. You’re going to be paying planners and architects to design your site. You might be paying both a planner and a zoning attorney to help you through the zoning process. From soup to nuts, I think a fair budget for a good-quality application is probably half a million dollars—which is crazy, but that’s what it takes. There’s a lot of moving pieces to making this successful.”
Darwin: “We advise clients to have the available liquid funds to cover capital expenses over the course of a year. You want to be making money by the end of that year, but if there’s a rainy day, you want to be well-capitalized to survive.”
Armen Yemenidjian: “Understand it is a highly competitive market. Because there are so many competing applicants, it’s imperative to have a clear, concise plan with a budget and a path to victory. Applicants need to demonstrate they will be successful if awarded the license. You need to not only have the budget to pay for the application, but also show regulators you have the capital to [operate the business successfully].”
7. Get a head start before applications are released.
Gullickson: “When you’re proactive in putting a business plan together and engaging in the state’s programming before the rules and regulations are even finalized, you’re going to position yourself light-years ahead of somebody that just gets the idea to throw an application in when it’s published. My most recent successes are the clients that we’ve spent eight months or a year with, building their team and making sure they had a solid foundation on which to apply.”
Havens: “The No. 1 thing is to not wait until the last minute. The application timeline is going to be shorter than you want, so look for business partners prior to the application coming out. Attend meetings of medical cannabis commissions to understand what’s coming down the pike and when that next round of licenses is going to be dropped. Get your plans in order. The more elements you have to populate your application before they’re even dropped publicly is going to give you a leg up.”
8. Impose internal deadlines.
Havens: “Submission day always goes quicker than you think. It would be nice if everyone on the team could operate with the assumption that this is really due the day before it’s due, because there are always unforeseen circumstances.
“A lot of states require hand-delivery, so you can’t be finalizing things the day of. Have a single point person who’s the final arbiter of [deadlines, who determines,] ‘What time do we need to stop editing and head over to the state agency to make sure it gets in on time?’
“Some states have electronic submissions now, and to the extent they allow you to do a test submission, absolutely do that. If it’s due at 5:00, I wouldn’t start trying at 4:30 to upload a 700-page document. Start late morning at the latest, because there are always issues, and sometimes you can’t get the regulators on the phone to say, ‘What do I do now?’”
“From soup to nuts, I think a fair budget for a good-quality application is probably half a million dollars—which is crazy, but that’s what it takes.”–Erin Alexander, associate general counsel, Cresco Labs
9. Turn a boring application into a creative story.
Darwin: “Some companies have full teams of technical writers that have graded these types of applications before. That’s who you’re competing against, so it’s important to have a strong technical writing team.”
Alexander: “Write it in such a way that it’s easy to follow. These end up being massive legal writing projects, so taking the time to put together a very well-written piece will help you stand out. [That requires] … good writers and good subject-matter experts. We have a couple attorneys that work on applications, and we have technical writers that have some operational expertise and can write about our operational practice [so it’s] readable to somebody who may or may not be familiar with how a dispensary operates.”
Gullickson: “You can hire a technical writer to put your application together, but if you don’t have style and grace and an overarching theme throughout your application, it’s not going to stick out. Who wants to read 100 security plans? Nobody. So how can you create a theme or a story and be really creative in your presentation?”
10. Partner with industry consultants who have done this before.
Yemenidjian: “If you’ve never operated a dispensary before, you probably could have gotten away with writing your own application five or six years ago. Now, the process has become so advanced, applicants must have an understanding of technical writing and standard operating procedures to be successful—especially because there are more criteria now, such as community engagement, corporate responsibility and social citizenship, that are being taken into consideration.”
Havens: “If you go at this alone and don’t involve consultants who know the cannabis business, it’s an uphill climb. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but one of the reasons you see a lot of national or multi-state operators is, obviously they want economies of scale and they want to broaden their footprint, but local interests need their help. It’s hard to populate an operational plan, a clinical plan and a security plan if you haven’t done it before.”
Gullickson: “I don’t urge working with an expert because I want clients; I urge working with an expert because … you’re just not going to win if you don’t know all these idiosyncrasies, no matter how much you research on the internet. The devil’s in the details with the application, so you need that industry expertise; it’s mandatory. States don’t feel comfortable anymore giving licenses to somebody that doesn’t have the experience.”