With the opening of more and more state-legal markets, cannabis sales are quickly catching up with that of more established products, brands, and services. New data compiled by Marijuana Business Daily shows that Americans spent an estimated $10.4 billion on cannabis last year—about as much as they dropped at the country’s sixth-largest fast food chain, Taco Bell.
Just two years ago, cannabis sales in the US stood at about $6.7 billion.
That $10.4 billion in sales, which combines medical and adult-use markets, was nearly $2 billion more than in 2017. It was also nearly three times the $3.6 billion that Americans spent on e-cigarettes in 2018.
As the industry continues to expand—Illinois is poised to become the 11th state to legalize adult-use cannabis, and Texas just OK’d a massive expansion to its medical marijuana program—it seems only a matter of time until cannabis eclipses other sectors of the American economy. Already there are more legal cannabis-industry employees in the US than there are steelworkers.
A number of interconnected factors fueled the industry’s growth in 2018. Perhaps most notably, regulated adult-use sales began in California, making it the largest legal market in the country—perhaps the world. Meanwhile, Utah and Oklahoma opened their doors to medical cannabis, and the latter already has more registered patients than New York state.
As Leafly reported earlier this year, the cannabis industry added 64,000 jobs in 2018 alone, bringing the total number of legal cannabis workers up to nearly a quarter million. On the finance side, investors poured in nearly $10 billion.
“The gradual legalization around the world of a plant which humans have been happily consuming for millennia is creating one of the largest industry-growth phenomena in history,” said Tom Adams, the managing director and principal analyst at BDS Analytics. He’s not exaggerating: Just two years ago, cannabis sales in the US stood at about $6.7 billion.
Goldfish Crackers Today, NFL Tomorrow
The MJBiz analysis made a few other striking comparisons to help contextualize what $10 billion in sales looks like. For instance, it’s about 10 times the roughly $900 million that Americans forked out for Goldfish crackers. It’s just a sliver of the $72.2 billion spent on wine. And it’s more than twice what Americans paid to play the popular video game Fortnite.
Some of the most interesting data points in the report highlight the industries that cannabis is likely to surpass next. The NFL generated $15 billion in 2018, for example. Cannabis is almost guaranteed to blow past that figure in the next few years.
Online food deliveries, meanwhile, added up to $17 billion in 2018. Whether cannabis will pull ahead there remains to be seen—in part because more legal cannabis may in fact lead to more online food deliveries…
Whether cannabis will ever surpass the king of fast food, McDonalds ($36 billion), pizza ($46 billion) or alcohol ($254 billion!) remains to be seen. But no matter how the numbers play out, they tell us that when legal cannabis becomes available, people want it. A lot.
Max Savage Levenson likely has the lowest cannabis tolerance of any writer on the cannabis beat. He also writes about music for Pitchfork, Bandcamp and other bespectacled folk. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator