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‘It’s a roller coaster’: Marijuana and booze sales surge, then fall

Marijuana sales were up 65% the third week of March, compared to the same week in March 2019.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Despite all the bad news about the economy, there’s a bright spot: Marijuana and liquor stores in Oregon saw records sales in March.

Licensed retailers in Oregon saw a 30% jump in marijuana sales this March over last, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

The sharpest increase came the week leading up to Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s order to stay at home when many customers stocked up. Marijuana sales were up 65% in the third week of March, compared to the same week in March 2019.

Since then, sales dipped significantly.

“It’s a roller coaster,” said Robb Arnold, owner of Jayne, a cannabis dispensary in Northeast Portland.

Arnold explained his sales are starting to level off, but still below March numbers. OLCC data shows statewide, marijuana sales in April have rebounded to fairly normal year-over-year growth. 

Arnold is concerned about the loss of summer tourism dollars. Marijuana sales numbers typically peak in August, according to the OLCC.

“I think regular customers will kind of have a cautious approach as they come back,” explained Arnold. “I think it will slowly begin to ramp back up again.”

In Eastern Oregon, a surge in marijuana customers created public health concern, explained Les Zaitz, editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise.

“We have hundreds of people driving into Malheur County from Idaho clustering outside of these dispensaries to get their products,” said Zaitz. “City officials have been so concerned that they’ve threatened to close those dispensaries if they don’t start enforcing social distancing.”

RELATED: Should stay-at-home restrictions be lifted for rural Oregon?

Oregon liquor stores also saw record numbers in March with close to $66 million dollars in hard liquor sales- a 20 percent increase from a year ago.

People aren’t necessarily drinking more, the OLCC theorized, instead consumers have shifted from bars and restaurants (which are closed) to drinking at home.

Industry data suggests most consumers are purchasing basic distilled spirits over novelty or craft liquor.

“This is consistent with what we would expect in times of uncertainty when consumers are stressed and trying to deal with a really unprecedented situation,” explained Aimee Huff, an assistant professor of marketing at Oregon State University. “They go back to these familiar habits.”

Huff explained this type of consumer behavior is not surprising. Shoppers are influenced by fears that products are in limited supply or may no longer be available.

“It makes sense that people were stockpiling or buying more than they normally would when the closures were first instituted because there is this uncertainty and this fear of scarcity,” said Huff.

RELATED: Coronavirus in Oregon: By the numbers

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