DENVER — Marijuana stores across the country are bracing for one of their biggest sales weekends in history: The Super Bowl.
While the annual football festival is traditionally associated with beer and liquor, pot is quickly gaining ground. Fans say marijuana provides an alternative way to celebrate — without the hangover.
“You can be social, have a good time and still be a human being and go to work the next day,” said Justin Bishoff, manager of the Denver-based GroundSwell cannabis dispensary.
Cannabis sales leaped 40% last year on the Saturday before the big game and this year could rise even higher thanks to California’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana, according to Green Bits, which runs sales systems for more than 350 dispensaries in six states and compiled stats for USA TODAY.
“The Super Bowl is like any other large social event: people getting together,” said Green Bits CEO Ben Curren. “Whenever there’s a large social event we see an uptick in purchases.”
Last year, the average purchase at a marijuana store rose from $100 to $140 on the Saturday before the game, with much of the spending coming in the form of marijuana-infused snacks known as edibles, or in cartridges for vape pens, Green Bits found.
Fridays are typically the busiest sales days as consumers stock up for the weekend, and April 20 remains the biggest sales day of the year, as 4/20 is traditionally when millions of marijuana enthusiasts across the country light up in public. Other popular shopping periods include the days before Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the day after Thanksgiving, which cannabis retailers dubbed “Green Friday.”
Nine states — Colorado, Alaska, California, Nevada, Vermont, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts and Maine, plus the District of Columbia — permit recreational marijuana use, although not all of them allow sales in stores. Minnesota, which is hosting the big game, does not permit recreational use.
Searches for Super Bowl-related deals are already increasing on platforms like Weedmaps, which helps customers find marijuana stores near them. Cannabis stores are forced to rely on non-traditional advertising venues because few television stations or newspapers will accept advertising over fears it might make them a target of federal agents.
Weedmaps is highlighting Super Bowl specials in Arizona, Michigan and California, with more expected closer to game day. At Denver’s GroundSwell, workers are offering deals on marijuana-infused sodas, riffing off the beer-drinking culture of the Super Bowl.
Anheuser-Busch is a major supporter of the NFL through the advertising it buys on the television networks carrying the games. And alcohol in general is big business during the game: Nielson reports beer, wine and spirits sales average 9-11% higher in the week before the Super Bowl.
In Las Vegas, marijuana store Blum is offering a special deal on Super Bowl day itself: Buy $30 of marijuana, get $8 more for just a penny. Until then, the company’s four Nevada stores are running a Super Bowl-related raffle, said Mikel Alvarez, vice president of retail operations for TerraTech Corp., which owns Blum. Alvarez said he’s also working with the company’s two California stores on Super Bowl-related specials.
“We’re having some fun with it,” he said.
Like many other marijuana experts, Alvarez said the increasing acceptance of cannabis, especially in the form of edibles, is driving up consumption in social situations.
“You go out with friends and it’s amazing how many people aren’t drinking as much. They’re using cannabis instead,” Alvarez said.
Of course, not everyone is a fan of higher marijuana sales around the Super Bowl, or any other time, for that matter. Kevin Sabet, who runs the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, argues that increasing normalization is a bad idea, and Americans should be trying to reduce their use of mind-altering drugs, no matter the form in which they come.
“People are naïve if they think legalization is about these lofty goals often spoken about on university campuses or mass protests. In reality, legalization is about what is spoken about in Wall Street board rooms: money, money, and more money,” Sabet said. “This whole movement to legalize has enriched an industry looking to normalize and profit from heavy use of their products. It’s like we’re seeing the Big Tobacco car crash happen all over again in slow motion.”