The world is changing. Retail is changing. Consumer behavior is changing. Effectively, stores are closed. Most order online these days and pick up their orders curbside. In California, stores are mostly operating an all-delivery model. Cannabis is no exception. The state’s burgeoning pot industry is quickly adapting itself to the needs of consumers amidst a coronavirus pandemic currently debilitating the economy.
Because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, cannabusinesses are unable to access federal bailouts or any kind of financial relief. What is more, strict stay-at-home orders effectively canceled popular income-generating events, such as 4/20. Companies have to find new methods of reaching consumers. They are even lobbying lawmakers to recognize cannabis for its many benefits. Officially.
According to Forbes, they won. Cannabis is effectively essential business, able to operate freely, provided companies adhere to stringent COVID-19 protocols. There is opportunity in this, a chance for weed to find its own voice and purpose during times of strife. Even so, challenges remain. Stores must close and provide curbside and cannabis delivery services. Comply with social distancing.
Key sales periods, such as 4/20 and others are typically times of highest turnover. Yet, all was still. Further, these celebrations fall at times when much of the normal cultivation and processing occurs. In New York, for example, legalization efforts themselves ceased in order to manage the outbreak, which hit worse there than anywhere else, especially in the early days of the pandemic.
What is more, consumers went on buying sprees, stocking up on essentials and getting what they need to survive isolation at home and anxiety over the growing death toll and mass unemployment. For these reasons, along with the many health benefits of using cannabis, regulators in California and in many other states declared pot shops essential businesses. This puts weed delivery on par with food and gas.
The fact that cannabis delivery is now “critical service” has many hugely optimistic about the future of this industry. In fact, the pandemic could perhaps be what finally pushes cannabis deeper into mainstream society. Calling marijuana essential is undoubtedly a pivotal moment in the industry’s history. Some hope it could finally lead to fair regulations, comparable with other retail stores.
Currently, cannabusinesses have many restrictions. Now, it seems the pandemic might lift some of these heavy obligations, making it easier for companies to operate. For example, Colorado is now allowing remote application for renewal of state licenses, as opposed to appearing in person before a licensing office. Such progress might otherwise take as long as five years to achieve.
For hopefuls in the industry, the pandemic could even be what finally convinces Congress to allow banking services for cannabusinesses. Currently, federal law makes it illegal for companies to use banks, since it considers these funds ill gotten. However, since cash might be a vector for COVID-19, banks are now the only means of conducting safe business.
Thus far, the federal government has not said too much on the role of cannabis during this emergency. States have been deciding on their own how to proceed. Most either maintained legal access, some even widened access to make it easier, using curbside and cannabis delivery services. Weed is legal fully in 11 states. At least 33 allow its use for medical purposes.
The only state to limit legal weed stores to medical use only is Massachusetts, which opted to shut recreational use entirely. Gov. Charlie Baker, with a judge’s agreement, argued that closing recreational stores would protect public health. Some experts claim that using weed, especially smoking it, could actually increase risk of a coronavirus infection. This is because COVID-19 attacks the lungs.
According to Kevin Sabet, the executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group, “While other industries are accepting closures as part of what must be done to protect vulnerable populations, the marijuana industry has chosen to kick and scream at the prospect of even a momentary loss of profit.” Indeed, and this might well keep many healthy in times of spreading disease.
Cannabis in Future
As of January this year, the cannabis industry employed around 243 000 full-time employees across the United States. That is a 15 percent increase since last year. In comparison, only around 50,000 people work in the coal mining industry. Consumers drive this growth. By their choices. By their behaviors. Under the stress of pandemic, folks are stockpiling. Cannabis appears top of their stockpiling list.
Some of this might have been in preparation for popular cannabis events, like 4/20. However, because officials requested celebrants rather to stay home, innovative dispensaries organized their own events in response, such as hosting Zoom parties to celebrate the occasion, complete with live music and real vibes. Despite all this, cannabis stores do not own the market. Other concerns exist.
One industry insider closely monitors sales because, he says anonymously, price-conscious consumers might well move away from legal outlets and buy cheaper weed elsewhere. Think dealers on the black market, who do not pay tax or comply with safety regulations, such as sending their products for testing. Folks might also just grow their own too, in bigger numbers than they currently are now.
People are bored. That is not going to change. They want cannabis and they want lots of it. However, they are not always willing to pay so much for it. They will go where it is cheaper. Another positive consequence of the pandemic could well see a lowering of cannabis prices across the industry. For many, this is especially anticipatory in a climate of rising unemployment and financial hardship.
The future of cannabis looks promising for all involved. Governments, businesses, and consumers alike. You can search Google for “marijuana delivery near me” to find your closest service. So good is the business environment for weed these days that you can have it delivered within half an hour in some areas. With cannabis helping hugely to relieve some COVID-19 symptoms, this is its biggest opportunity.