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California’s legal pot industry faces year of decline because of coronavirus, Newsom warns

Sean McDermott, left, owner of the Grove cannabis shop in La Mesa, looks over one of the store’s products with employee Larry Fennell. (Karen Pearlman / San Diego Union-Tribune)

California’s legal marijuana industry faces a year of declining sales as a result of the pandemic-induced recession despite an initial spike in consumer demand after dispensaries were deemed essential businesses, according to details outlined in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget.

Newsom projected in January that the state’s cannabis excise tax would bring in $479 million this year and $590 million in the fiscal year starting July 1, but his revised budget now forecasts just $443 million this year and a decline to $435 million next year.

“While similar products like alcohol and tobacco tend to be recession-resistant, the forecast assumes that cannabis businesses will be more negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the budget says. “Cannabis businesses have less access to banking services that could provide liquidity, have a younger consumer base likely to be disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 recession, and still must contend with competition from the black market.”

In an attempt to help the state’s legal pot industry weather a downturn, the Newsom administration has relaxed some restrictions on how cannabis firms operate, deferred license renewal fees and extended the deadline for filing first quarter tax returns.

Industry leaders say they are bracing for economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which led Newsom more than two months ago to issue an order for California residents to stay at home to stem the disease’s spread.

“It’s a pretty dire situation at this point,” said Jerred Kiloh, owner of the Higher Path cannabis store in Sherman Oaks, and president of the United Cannabis Business Assn., which represents many Los Angeles-based retailers.

“The illicit market is just going to have another leg up this year,” he added. “When people have less disposable income they are going to look at the lowest cost option.”

The darker projections are a setback for a market championed by Newsom, who was the leading proponent of Proposition 64, the 2016 ballot measure that legalized the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes in California.

Since the state began licensing growing and selling cannabis in 2018, the legal industry has struggled to overcome impediments that include bans on sales by most California cities, high taxes and competition from a much larger illicit market that can offer lower prices.

But when Newsom issued his stay-at-home order that forced many businesses to close, he exempted marijuana sellers as “essential.”

There was an immediate run on cannabis products as consumers stockpiled pot in anticipation of a possible future shortage amid concern pot shops might also be forced to close.

“We initially saw a spike in sales that was attributed to panic buying,” said Josh Drayton, a spokesman for the California Cannabis Industry Assn., who noted that sales have “leveled out.”

Drayton said the future is “very unpredictable” but that he has not seen enough data to support the idea of a downturn, and others say they think sales will continue to increase.

BDSA, a firm that analyzes industry trends, still thinks California’s market will grow, from $2.9 billion last year to $3.6 billion this year.

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Patrick McGreevy on Los Angeles Times

Published: June 03, 2020

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