COVID-19 Can Change Consumer Opinion, Behavior on Alcohol and Cannabis

Cannabis sales rise during COVID-19 pandemic

Bar, restaurant and tasting room closures, as well as safety concerns because of COVID-19, have dramatically decreased the number of consumers going out, which is reducing demand and sales of on-premise alcohol. As more people stay home, cannabis sales have increased. According to state economic reports during 2020, marijuana sales in Colorado have risen from $82 million to $135 million, in Washington from $55 million to $70 million and in Oregon from $50 million to $90 million.

The Oregon Economic Forecast report states, “The longer the pandemic lasts, the more likely consumers will permanently adjust their behavior as they become accustomed to their newer routines and buying patterns.” While consumers view cannabis and alcohol quite differently, there is now more evidence to suggest cannabis could increasingly become a substitute for alcohol, at least for at-home consumption.

Research on cannabis consumer opinion

Currently, 15 states have legalized adult cannabis use, including Colorado, Washington and Oregon. Quinn Thomas and DHM Research conducted research in those three states to find out more about cannabis users and how their consumer behavior drives the industry. The report, CANNABIS NEXT DOOR: A profile of the consumers driving a new industry, found the reasons for cannabis use were more likely to mirror that of a prescription — to reduce stress, anxiety or pain or as a sleep aid — as opposed to alcohol use, which is more common when socializing or celebrating an occasion.

Many of our focus group participants made references to alcohol being for “going out” and cannabis being for “staying home.” That’s likely in part because public consumption of cannabis remains illegal even in the states that have legalized its use, contributing to the stigmatization of cannabis. Less than a quarter of cannabis users reported using it as an alternative to alcohol, but the pandemic could be changing that.

Long-term implications

With federal prohibition and state bans on public use, the cannabis industry still has an uphill climb with destigmatization. But increasing sales as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, could be expanding the consumer base as more people stay home. If this is resulting in more consumers switching from alcohol to cannabis, these industries have new opportunities and challenges as occasions for use change from social to isolated. The long-term impacts of COVID-19 could permanently alter consumer opinions and behaviors surrounding both alcohol and cannabis.