The term “Dry January” seemed to dominate the cultural nomenclature this year much more than years past. It was hard not to see references to the trendy monthlong alcohol fast on any of my social media feeds over the last month. A Jan. 29 report by Bloomberg News indicated that alcohol sales nationwide were down in January, with sales hitting a post-pandemic low at three of the country’s largest liquor chains. On the other hand, cannabis sales were trending up in some legal states, with revenues at national cannabis companies like Curaleaf Holdings Inc., Green Thumb Industries Inc. and Verano Holdings Corp. expected to increase about 6% on average in the first quarter of 2024.
“Anecdotally, we have a lot of people coming into our dispensaries that are saying they are not drinking for January and therefore are now upping their cannabis purchases,” said Matt Darin, CEO of Curaleaf.
January is often a slower month in the legal dope game. Retailers are gearing up for spring and summer upticks, and consumer spending has traditionally lagged as a result of increased spending during the holiday season. In addition, the legal cannabis industry is incredibly volatile and competitive. Many cannabis operators are slashing their marketing and sales teams, offloading unprofitable retail and cultivation locations or ceasing operations altogether — either on their terms or as part of the terms of their receiverships.
Roy Liskey, who owns and operates Laingsburg dispensary Local Roots Cannabis with his mother, Ronda, was able to offer some perspective on what, if any, financial benefit this monthlong fast from alcohol might have had for cannabis operators.
“January can be a scary time for a lot of retailers,” Liskey said. Winter weather and consumer spending slowdowns have long plagued the post-holiday months for retailers in many sectors, not just cannabis.
“Normally, this time of year is when we see an increase in what would be considered value products, with things like bags of shake becoming more and more popular,” he said. Cheap products like shake, mid-grade to low-grade flower and botanical or flavored distillate cartridges are ever popular during the post-holiday depression as stoners look to spread their dollars further while still getting high as often as possible.
This year, however, Liskey said Local Roots’ January sales were trending the strongest he’s seen in the few years the shop has been open. He also noted that customers seem to be using cannabis as a replacement for alcohol in social and recreational settings and appear to be keying in on the perceived health benefits of swapping cannabis for alcohol, including the lack of a hangover and other negative side effects associated with alcohol use. The Bloomberg News report concluded that, in addition to the many people ditching alcohol for cannabis during Dry January, there’s a growing trend of young people embracing cannabis over alcohol in general, with many pointing to health and wellness as a determining factor.
Liskey believes both new and veteran consumers have started to rely on cannabis more and more as access to and, more importantly, variety of products has dramatically increased.
Representatives from local retailers The Botanical Co. and Pincanna echoed this claim, mentioning that even students, a demographic notorious for heavy alcohol consumption, seem to be making the switch to cannabis use in increasing numbers. However, they couldn’t say for sure that the Dry January phenomenon was driving up sales. Many retailers have been in business a year longer than they were last January and, by virtue of that, are running more smoothly and potentially creating more volume and revenue. That being said, the representatives backed up Liskey’s sentiment that mindsets seem to be shifting and many folks are choosing cannabis not just for its effects, but to mitigate alcohol’s negative impacts on health.
Our state is experiencing some of the cheapest retail pricing in its history. When you consider the minimal side effects of cannabis use and the amount of people participating in alcohol detoxes like Dry January, it’s easy to believe that what Liskey and other retailers are experiencing may be a growing trend of people who are looking to use cannabis to replace more expensive and harmful substances like alcohol. Retailers hope they will be able to retain these customers and convert them into long-term cannabis consumers. There’s hope that this demographic represents the remaining market share that’s left to be created and fought for in the state’s rough-and-tumble legal dope game. Only time will tell as retailers buckle up for what’s sure to be a bumpy 2024.
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