Over $87 million spent on cannabis in Maryland’s first month of adult sales

Marijuana users dropped $87.43 million on cannabis in Maryland during a strong first month of recreational sales, according to state officials, spending an average of about $2.8 million on the substance each day in July.

That hefty sum far outstripped first-month performances in states like New Jersey, which sold about $24 million, and New Mexico, which racked up $22 million in month-one recreational cannabis sales.

“We’re happy about it,” said BJ Carretta, senior vice president of marketing for TerrAscend, which operates cannabis businesses in Cumberland, Salisbury, Parkville and Burtonsville, Md.

Licensed growers sold 19,582 pounds of weed in July, according to the Maryland Cannabis Administration, up from the 8,056 pounds sold in June. That’s about the equivalent weight of three female Asian elephants. Flower, including bud and pre-rolled joints, accounted for more than $52.6 million of July’s sales. Concentrates, including vape products, were the next most popular cannabis product in Maryland, followed by edibles.

Industry leaders said the launch of the adult-use market unfolded smoothly last month as Maryland avoided many of the pitfalls that other states have encountered. Recreational rollouts have hit snags in places like New York, where adult-use became legal with no formal regulatory structure for cannabis businesses to sell the drug. Law enforcement officials in New York have been playing whack-a-mole trying to shut down illegal marijuana operations as the state has moved slowly to license sellers. Virginia, similarly, decriminalized cannabis without legalizing sales, leading to a bustling gray market and safety concerns.

But in Maryland, lawmakers moved swiftly this year to make sure a recreational market would be available on the first day that cannabis prohibition ended.

“Maryland has been a great success so far,” said Matt Darin, CEO of Curaleaf, which operates four dispensaries in Gaithersburg, Reisterstown, Frederick and Columbia.

Darin said Maryland cannabis businesses were largely able to keep pace with the sharp spike in demand because state lawmakers and regulators cleared the way for existing medical license holders to convert to a general use license seamlessly before recreational weed became legal. Going live on the first day that recreational use became legal also provided consumers with regulated suppliers, and Darin said Curaleaf saw almost three times more customers in July than in June.

“It’s certainly more than doubled what it was before,” Darin said. “We continue to see an increase that’s maybe not triple, but getting closer to that.”

Industry leaders also credited lawmakers for setting the tax on cannabis at 9 percent, which they say allows legal weed prices to stay low and be competitive with the black market. Maryland’s cannabis sales and use tax reaped $4.61 million for the state in July, according to the Maryland Cannabis Administration.

With the basic infrastructure to support and regulate adult-use cannabis sales in place, the state now faces the challenge of meeting its social justice and equity goals by increasing diversity in the marijuana industry. Maryland leaders have for years said that they want to see cannabis sales benefit the communities that suffered most under the war on drugs, but efforts to increase the number of Black and Brown business owners have faltered thus far.

The state’s regulatory system failed to license a single Black business leader during the first round of medical marijuana licensing in 2016. The state tried to correct course by prioritizing minority owners in a second round that authorized 14 minority-owned businesses to get medical cannabis licenses, but so far only half of those applicants have been fully licensed. Existing medical businesses were given the first chance to participate in adult-use sales, perpetuating those disparities.

The state hopes to advance economic equity with its next round of recreational licenses, though latecomers to the adult-use market will face the added challenge of competing against already-established brands. Slated to be granted this winter, the next round will be race-blind, but prioritize applicants who live in or attended school in Zip codes that were disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of marijuana.

To accomplish Maryland’s social justice goals, Gov. Wes Moore (D) last month appointed Audrey L. Johnson as the new acting executive director and Courtney Davis as deputy director of the newly-created Office of Social Equity. Johnson, a former senior director for economic innovation and strategy for Johns Hopkins University and Health System, and Davis, formerly executive director of the D.C.-based national advocacy group Marijuana Matters, will steer an agency charged with helping minority business owners enter the industry and helping to ensure regulations meet the state’s economic equity and social justice goals.

“Maryland can — and will — be a national leader in fostering access and economic opportunities for historically marginalized communities in the adult-use cannabis market,” Johnson said in a statement after her appointment last month.

Moore also announced appointments to the Cannabis Public Health Advisory Council, a group tasked with issuing recommendations to the governor and lawmakers about the public health impacts of legalization, including strategies for mitigating youth consumption and cannabis addiction.