Since the United States has seen the rapid, far-reaching spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19), public health officials have advised social distancing measures to slow down the outbreak. This has resulted in many public places and businesses closing for the foreseeable future.
Which has left many cannabis consumers wondering if they will still have access to cannabis during sheltering?
Last week, while people stocked up on cannabis supplies in anticipation of dispensaries and delivery services shutting down. As previously reported, data from Headset last week saw “sales of Adult Use cannabis in Washington State were up 23% on Friday, 14% on Saturday, and 33% on Sunday.” Not only were more people purchasing, but the amount people were purchasing also increased by 22% over the previous week.
And while the federal government looks to respond to the effects work stoppage will have on our economy, it's up to state and local officials to combat outbreaks in their regions by determining which businesses and services are deemed “essential” and where cannabis falls in that estimation.
It's still early, and by all projections and models, the U.S. could be practicing social distancing and quarantining measures that might alter our way of life for many months to come. So we put together a guide to whether dispensaries and delivery services are available to you and everything else to you should expect when buying cannabis during the coronavirus.
Is my dispensary still open? Can I do curbside pickup? Delivery?
[Editor's note: If you're looking to see what the guidance is from the officials in your region, our WM Policy team has created a resource page that has up-to-date information on which adult-use and medical cannabis states are allowing dispensaries and deliveries to continue. The page will be updated daily. If you live in a region that is allowing dispensaries to stay open, it's advised to see if they are offering pickup or delivery through WM Orders.
Which leaves the burning question: is buying cannabis considered essential?
The answer is a clear “yes” to cannabis users. So far, it seems that many state and local officials agree as many have designated dispensaries and delivery services “essential,” allowing them to remain operational while other retail, beauty, and exercise services are forced to close. Los Angeles County listed cannabis dispensaries as essential healthcare services, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.
Many state governments have done the same, prompting praise from cannabis advocates such as NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri, who, in an email to the press, said the decision “permits [medical cannabis facilities] to continue to provide important services to patients who rely on them.”
For dispensaries, making the distinction between adult-use and medical customers can be a difficult one. A general manager for a Las Vegas retailer said that they only allowed medical customers for a couple of days before deciding to re-open back up to adult-use customers as well. “After Wednesday [Mar. 18, 2020], we closed down to all but medical customers. This gave us breathing room to review regulations and decide what to do. We re-opened the [adult use] side [Friday]. So far it's working well,” the manager said to Weedmaps News. “We're asking customers to shop online and are enforcing social distancing in the store. We had challenges on Wednesday with customers honoring and adhering to protocols, but now, on Friday, they're already adapting. The public is settling into a 'new normal'. ”
Despite state and local officials allowing dispensaries to stay open, some have decided to reduce hours or close. A general manager for a dispensary in Oklahoma told Weedmaps News that “dispensaries will still probably qualify as essential medicine and be allowed to stay open, like in California. However, some dispensaries in Oklahoma have cut their hours back, and some have closed outright.”
With the need for more assertive social distancing measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, some state regulators have softened their regulations to give cannabis operations the flexibility to sell cannabis products using delivery and pickup options. Washington is relaxing its regulations to allow curbside pick up, per a report from The News Tribune. Illinois, Michigan, and Maryland have also softened their regulations to allow pickup or delivery services to limit the spread of the coronavirus among those who may be immunocompromised.
A dispensary manager in Las Vegas said that their store was asking its customers to order online. “We're using a queueing phone app to handle onsite pickup. Customers order online and then text us when they get to the parking lot. We text them when it's their turn for pickup,” they said. “No more than ten customers are allowed on the sales floor at one time.”
How crowded are dispensaries? How long are wait times for delivery and curbside?
In-store sales were high Monday and Tuesday of last week, with consumers preparing for self-isolation and stocking up in case of possible closures. Towards the end of the week, dispensaries have seen a shift towards online orders.
If delivery and pickup are an option in your region, just know that wait times could be longer than usual. Since delivery and curbside are being made available and people have been practicing social distancing, cannabis orders have dramatically increased. On Monday, March 16, Weedmaps saw a 350% increase in delivery and pickup orders over the previous Monday. And consumers are purchasing more, too. As of March 17, Weedmaps saw a 30% increase in the number of items per order.
“The wait is much, much longer for pickups,” said a budtender in Chicago. “People are definitely stocking up, but it's a different kind of busy than just recreational traffic. It's the kind of busy that leads to people being able to buy less, especially when the product gets low.”
In states with fewer COVID-19 cases, dispensaries are preparing for anticipated restrictions but aren't seeing much of a change in customer behavior. According to a dispensary manager in Oklahoma, “Although we offer delivery, delivery orders have only increased a tiny bit. Shockingly, I've seen most people coming right in. We're definitely seeing a significant amount of patients just coming into the store.”
People looking to order cannabis should expect an increase in wait time, so plan accordingly.
What precautions are businesses taking to not spread the virus?
Along with enacting curbside pickup and delivery options, retailers are also using social distancing guidelines to curb the spread of the coronavirus, such as limiting the number of people allowed inside, maintaining a six-foot distance between customers and staff, and repeatedly sanitizing all surfaces.
Some retailers are also enacting policies to protect those who have a higher risk of catching the coronavirus. A spokesperson for Caliva, a California dispensary and brand, said that their two retail stores have designated 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. for senior and veteran customers, since they are most susceptible to the virus, before opening for the general public.
In Colorado, dispensaries are also taking COVID-19 seriously. Most dispensaries are disinfecting areas more frequently, requiring symptomatic employees to stay home, and providing hand sanitizer for customers and employees. Other changes are taking place as well. Many dispensaries that have always sold marijuana flowers in bulk are switching to pre-packaged options. Some dispensaries have even begun to minimize contact between customers on the sales floor by marking six-foot “social distancing” areas on the floor with tape.
Here are what a few dispensaries managers have told Weedmaps News:
A dispensary manager in Colorado: “We're taking serious steps in every one of our locations to make sure that social distancing is happening, up to marking six-foot circles on the sales floor.”
A dispensary manager in Nevada: “We're making sure we're there for the public and enforcing policies that keep the public, the community, and the team safe.”
A dispensary manager in Oklahoma: “Each station is set up with its own Lysol, disinfectant wipes, and sprays. We wipe down the station after each patient. Our stations are set up with around 3 feet between them, so we're closing the middle station down.”
A dispensary manager in San Francisco: “We're being strict about maintaining social distancing inside the store and outside in our lines — and we're constantly sanitizing hands and surfaces. It's a strange, intense and challenging time — but everyone is pitching in — both team members and guests. I couldn't be more grateful for everyone's effort and understanding.”
If you want to ensure a cannabis business is practicing before safe guidelines before visiting a dispensary or placing an order, you can call beforehand and ask.
What cannabis products should I consider?
As people shelter in with family and roommates, cannabis consumption habits have shifted as well. For people with children around, they might not be able to spark a joint as readily as when their kids were in school. Or maybe your roommate just isn't a big fan of the smoke.
Weedmaps ordering data showed that while overall orders increased last week, flower as a representative category decreased by 21%. Edibles increased its representative category contribution by 18%. In short, people are buying less flower and more edibles.
Another consideration when purchasing: sharing pipes, bongs, and joints spreads the germs. The bottom line: weed smoke can be harsh on the respiratory system when it's already under stress due to coughing or hacking from the flu. When interviewed by Vice, medical physician Ira Price recommends other methods such as topicals and edibles over burning flower.
“You're still ingesting cannabinoids,” said Roxanne Dennant, CEO of Fruit Slabs, about opting for edibles instead of flower or vape pens. “Your endocannabinoid system definitely digests cannabinoids differently than when you smoke or inhale them, but your body is still connecting with the cannabinoids. You're still going to achieve [what you need], whether you're looking to relax, get high, or medicate— whatever you use cannabis in your life for, edibles will get you there.”
How are cannabis companies and workers holding up?
As the coronavirus continues to spread, it poses incredible pressure on cannabis companies and their workers that have led to mixed emotions. As dispensaries that have stayed open while other businesses close and hourly workers are laid off, many in the cannabis industry are grateful for the opportunity to work. Some have said they feel a responsibility to serve the people who rely on cannabis.
“A contingent of team members want to be there,” said a Las Vegas dispensary manager. “They feel responsible to the public and are happy to be providing a much-needed service.”
“The last few days we've been trying to keep things positive and look at this as 'we have work to do, we have people to serve that are medicating with our product throughout [California].'” Dennant said. “We feel honestly quite lucky and blessed that we still have work to do because there are so many people who are out of work right now.”
And yet, the fear of getting sick or being laid off at some point still looms.
“There are a lot of different feelings out there,” said one dispensary manager in Colorado. “We're paying extra attention to make sure the employees know the extra steps we're taking are not only to take care of customers, but them.”
“Nobody wants to be out of a job,” said a Chicago budtender. “But we see so many people a day you can't not think about the virus no matter how many times you sanitize everything.”
Retail managers have been speaking with staff to gauge how they're feeling and making decisions accordingly.
“We've approached our employees with flexibility, by honoring their feelings and working with them. Anyone who feels sick, feels they may get sick, or thinks they may have been exposed are advised to stay at home, and this is enforced. If employees are unable, unwilling, or fearful of working, we work with them by adjusting schedules and giving them time off,” said a Las Vegas dispensary manager. “On the other hand, a lot of team members are relieved to have jobs. There's a big gaming market in Las Vegas. With the casino closures, many team members have lost half of their family income.”
In an email to the press, NORML said that state-level unemployment insurance will continue to provide benefits to laid-off cannabis workers if they worked at a licensed cannabis business that properly paid unemployment insurance taxes. NORML also encouraged any recently laid-off workers from the legal industry who believe they are being discriminated against to contact them.
Lastly, what do quarantine and social distancing mean?
What's the difference between quarantine and social distancing? Vox recently reported on the coronavirus outbreak and the utilization of social distancing to help quell the spread of the virus:
Quarantine: to separate individuals completely from the public if it is believed that they have been exposed, but aren't yet showing, symptoms of sickness.
Social distancing: requires the public to refrain from social gatherings and maintain a conservative and clear radius around oneself and others when out and about.
Including these practices in your plan to help fight the virus will greatly and positively affect your community. Protecting those who are immunocompromised or most susceptible to the virus is the number one priority throughout this pandemic.
Even if you are symptom-free, you can still be a carrier of coronavirus. According to various experts interviewed by The Atlantic, you should be avoiding social interaction as much as possible at this time. This includes skirting the gym, canceling non-essential appointments such as beauty treatments, stepping away from birthday parties and large family or friend gatherings, and keeping a healthy separation between you and the public when grocery shopping or running errands.
Photo from WeedMaps. Nic Juarez, Hannah Meadows, Karen Getchell, and Lindsay MaHarry all contributed reporting to this guide.
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