During the pandemic, people on Whidbey Island have been smoking bowls, vaping kush, munching yumables, toking weed, dabbing, puffin tuff, hotboxing and generally using cannabis more than ever before.
A jump in marijuana usage is a phenomenon that’s been seen across the nation, and in Island County, since the COVID-19 pandemic began. National surveys have shown that the pandemic is a major stressor in people’s lives and that a sizable number of folks have turned to pot for relief.
Industry experts have also opined that sheer lockdown boredom — as well as shows like Tiger King — has helped to drive a marijuana boom.
Employees at Whidbey Island Cannabis Company in Freeland noticed an increase in business this year, though they aren’t certain what has caused it. Normally sales would be lower as the weather grays, but they are almost double last year’s business, according to Steven Sutton, floor manager and retail buyer.
“It’s pretty cool to see,” he said. “It’s hard to tell whether it’s island growth or just whether we’re doing something better here, but we’ve definitely seen growth for sure.”
“The boost” of 2020 gave the retail business momentum, he said, and increased tourism on the island hasn’t hurt.
Cannabis is big business in Island County. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, retail pot shops in the county reported more than $10 million in sales, which generated $3.8 million in excise tax, according to Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.
In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, retail sales jumped by 20 percent to over $12 million, which generated $4.5 million in excise taxes. The level of increase was about the same in the state as a whole.
Cannabis sales in 2021 may increase by an even greater margin. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, cannabis sales in Island County blossomed to more than $14 million.
With a population of about 85,000 people in the county, that’s a per capita weed spending allowance of $165 a person over 12 months.
The state reports that there are seven pot retailers in the county. Two are in Oak Harbor, three are in Freeland, one is on Greebank and one is on Camano Island.
The Green Room in Oak Harbor is by far the most successful, reporting $365,000 in sales in June, according to Top Shelf Data. Sales in the month of March went from $268,000 in 2019 to just over $400,000 in 2021.
The picture may be similar when it comes to alcohol use at home during the pandemic. The state Department of Revenue doesn’t have county breakdown of sales tax collected on spirit sales to consumers, but statewide numbers show a COVID bump. Spirit sales taxes collected for the fiscal year ending in June 2019 totaled $145 million; the number jumped to $197 million in the fiscal year ending June 2021.
Beer and wine sold at restaurants and bars is a different story, as many were closed for months and then occupancy was limited.
With the passage of ballot measures in November 2021, Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana.
Washingt0n is expected to collect about $1 billion in pot taxes during the current two-year budget cycle, which is 2% of the operating budget. The money goes toward health care for low-income people, as well as marijuana-related enforcement, education and prevention.
Reporter Kira Erickson contributed to the story.