During a pandemic, Americans turn to pot in massive numbers

The global coronavirus pandemic has left millions of people locked out of bars, restaurants and theatres, but it’s been an unexpected boost for some U.S. pot shops.

SAN FRANCISCO — One company rushed to expand its delivery fleet. Another has seen sales triple. The global coronavirus pandemic has left millions of people locked out of bars, restaurants and theatres, but it’s been an unexpected boost for some U.S. pot shops.

Marijuana users in the nation’s largest legal pot shop, California, and elsewhere are on a buying binge, as they stock up for potential quarantines or simply light up in search of relief during anxious times and government lockdowns. New York, San Francisco and Palm Springs, California, are among the cities labeling dispensaries “essential” businesses that can remain open during virus lockdowns, in some cases with limitations.

Sales increases also are being witnessed in Colorado and Washington, according to cannabis data company Headset.

Dispensaries, meanwhile, have been quick to accommodate virus-wary customers, boosting delivery and pickup options.

In California, the online delivery marketplace Eaze said order volume jumped 38% on Monday, compared to the annual average, and deliveries overall saw an identical jump. Deliveries to first-time customers spiked over 50%.

The Weedmaps online directory has documented a big jump in delivery and pickup orders, too, and found California saw a 66% increase in order volume in the second week of March, compared to the first week.

Glass House Group CEO Kyle Kazan bought several Priuses to put more delivery vehicles on the road to keep up with demand.

With many consumers reluctant to go out for fear of getting sick, practicing social distancing or being ordered to stay inside by government, “we are going to have to bring the store to them,” said Kazan, whose company includes a cultivation arm and four California dispensaries.

“It’s not much different than Amazon,” Kazan said.

At The Herbery, which operates two stores in Vancouver, Washington, sales have spiked about 30% since last Friday, when Gov. Jay Inslee announced widespread school closures and other measures to deal with the outbreak. One store saw sales double on a single day, said owner Jim Mullen.

“People are buying four or five items instead of one or two,” he said. “People are asking what the legal limit is. We’re seeing bulk buying and people stocking up on products.”

In California, many stores have been forced to close their doors or limit sales over health fears, but marijuana shops have been deemed essential businesses in key markets across California where shelter-in-place orders have been issued, including in San Francisco.

Around the state it’s a case-by-case basis that is changing daily, but it appears much of the legal market is up and running, even as residents often find toilet paper, bread and other staples hard to find. Los Angeles, the state’s biggest market, on Thursday issued an order designating cannabis dispensaries “essential activities” because “they provide services that are recognized to be critical to the health … of the city,” even as it shuttered gyms.

Meanwhile, in New York, health officials notified medical marijuana dispensaries Tuesday that they are considered essential businesses and can stay open even if others are shuttered. On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo confined nearly all residents and non-essential workers to their homes, starting Sunday, following California’s near-lockdown.

Dispensary operator Etain has seen more patients requesting 30-day supplies, instead of weekly, particularly before it became clear that dispensaries would stay open, chief operating officer Hillary Peckham said.

With a significant jump in home-delivery orders for next week, the family-owned company is adding delivery days. Meanwhile, it’s encouraging people who pick up their medications to make appointments so it can limit dispensary crowds.

The sustained marijuana sales in the midst of a virus outbreak mark a victory for California’s 27-month-old legal industry, which feared illicit shops would flood the gap if the legal market was abruptly shut down.

San Francisco briefly shuttered it pot shops at the start of a lockdown in the region, before allowing sales to resume.

“I’m very grateful that they’ve had it open, simply because I deal with anxiety and I know a lot of people that really depend on the medical marijuana,” said Jackie Cornelius, a customer shopping at The Green Cross dispensary.

Sales for the Oakland-based Ganja Goddess delivery service had witnessed a steady climb in sales earlier this month, but “at the end of last week it just exploded,” said CEO Zachary Pitts.

“Our sales have tripled,” he added. “It’s been insane levels of business.”

Pitts and other industry experts see a simple logic at work. Cannabis can be consumed safely at home — it doesn’t require a social setting, or a trip to a mall — so deliveries make sense.

Companies are not just seeing a boost in new revenue — they are working to keep their employees and customers safe, with such measures as providing hand sanitizer in a cash-heavy business and limiting the number of customers in shops.

Meanwhile, the state has been allowing dispensaries to apply for the right to provide curbside pickups — a sort of drive-thru pot shop previously banned in California.

In the midst of a health crisis, a curbside pickup “is so much more preventative,” said Los Angeles dispensary owner Jerred Kiloh, who closed his sales floor Wednesday after setting up a curbside sales operation, with walk-in pickups at his lobby window on busy Ventura Boulevard.

“Imagine completely changing your entire business structure in 24 hours,” said Kiloh, who heads the United Cannabis Business Association.

Kiloh has implemented a range of sanitation steps for his shop, from routinely cleaning surfaces in the lobby, where customers can pick up orders, to requiring employees who carry out curbside orders to wear medical gloves.

At the Vancouver, Washington, shops, the number of customers inside is being limited, so people sometimes have to wait outside for five or 10 minutes. “We’ve got Purell by the cash registers — we’re handling cash every day,” owner Mullen said.

The jump in income has been welcome for many long-struggling California businesses, which have been competing against a robust illicit market and shouldering hefty state and local taxes since broad legal sales kicked off in January 2018.

At The Apothecarium dispensary in San Francisco, store manager Cali Manzello said the threat of temporarily losing legal sales set off a buying splurge.

“People knew they needed something to get them through, not only the time of being maybe trapped at home for these few weeks, but just to feel good,” Manzello said.

– Associated Press

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