Marijuana retailers are seeing customers stocking up on products as the coronavirus spreads across the United States. Stores also are implementing extra precautions to keep both customers and employees safe.
Here are some of the approaches cannabis businesses are taking in response to the health crisis:
- Increasing social distancing and sanitation.
- Prioritizing medical marijuana patients.
- Encouraging online ordering, home delivery and drive-through purchases of cannabis, where available.
In Michigan, one business postponed the grand opening celebration of its recreational marijuana store because of COVID-19.
At least one company in Illinois, MOCA Modern Cannabis, suspended recreational marijuana sales to focus on more vulnerable MMJ customers, according to the Chicago Tribune.
MJ shops address hurdles across the country
Illinois-based PharmaCann, which operates in multiple states including Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio, said it continues to serve both MMJ and adult-use customers in the fledgling Illinois market, but it is monitoring the situation.
“We prioritize medical patients first and foremost. And if that means having to modify how we do adult-use sales, then we’ll do that,” said Jeremy Unruh, PharmaCann’s director of regulatory and public affairs. “We’re seeing fewer customers than we normally do but those baskets are slightly increased.”
In markets where home delivery is allowed, such as Massachusetts and New York, “we are really pushing delivery,” Unruh said.
He told Marijuana Business Daily that the company has developed safety guidelines and put signs in its dispensaries. Unruh added that PharmaCann is using guidance from state health officials as a template.
“One of the great things about the industry – particularly in the eastern United States – is that we have very, very responsive and robust regulators when it comes to public health officials.”
Todd Beckwith, director of corporate affairs at AltMed Florida, which has 18 MMJ dispensaries across the state, said the company has bolstered its sanitation procedures and put in place social-distancing measures to protect its staff and customers after consulting with local health experts.
“Many of our patients like to shake our hands,” Beckwith said. “We love that, but we’re stopping that.”
He said the company has hand sanitizers at every point-of-sale terminal and is more frequently wiping door handles and other surfaces.
It’s also asking employees to stay at home if they feel sick and is letting them do so without losing sick time.
AltMed also is encouraging customers to order online and use its Florida drive-through facilities in Fort Myers, Longwood and Tallahassee.
Increased preventive measures
Native Roots, Colorado’s largest cannabis retailer, said it is closely following guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Shannon Fender, director of public affairs, said the company is taking additional preventive measures, including:
- Enhanced cleaning and sterilizing of high-touch objects and surfaces.
- Frequent hand-washing protocols for employees.
- Close monitoring of all persons coming in and out of its facilities.
Peter Marcus, communications director of Terrapin Care Station, which has six retail locations across Colorado, said the company is following CDC guidelines. He noted that budtenders are wearing gloves.
The company has seen higher customer traffic in recent days, and Marcus said “it would appear to be” because customers are stocking up.
Theory Wellness in Massachusetts, which has three MMJ and/or rec locations in the state, also is requiring employees to wear gloves. It is taking other unprecedented safety measures, including:
- A gloved doorman opens doors for customers.
- Several times per hour, employees wash surfaces with disinfectant.
- Budtenders are no longer allowed to offer customers a sample whiff of product.
- The number of people in the stores and waiting areas is limited.
- The company also is encouraging people to preorder so they don’t have to spend as much time in the store.
“We’re trying to minimize the touch points between patients and customers and employees,” said Thomas Winstanley, director of marketing at Theory Wellness.
In Seattle, where the coronavirus outbreak caused one of the first “community spread” instances in the United States, retailers report that sales seem normal in terms of total volume, with fewer customers making bulk purchases to make up for a reduction in traffic.
Business owners are advising workers to wash their hands frequently, sanitize counters and ATMs and wear gloves when handling cash.
Aaron Varney, director of Seattle-area cannabis retailer Dockside Cannabis, said his company has increased its messaging to encourage customers to purchase products online at a 10% discount prior to in-store pickup. That streamlines the process so customers are spending less time in the store, Varney said.
Once customers enter the store, they’re reminded of good “social distancing” practices, including avoiding close contact.
While Washington state’s medical marijuana program has effectively been absorbed into the adult-use program, Varney also is trying to keep the medically focused products in the store stocked for those consumers who rely on cannabis for medicine.
Kc Franks, owner of three Lux Pot Shop cannabis retail stores in the Seattle area, said his sales yesterday were up across the board, but it’s too early to tell if that will be a sustained pattern.
The store saw a few more customers than average, and the average sale per person went up by about $5. “Some people are getting worried and stocking up,” he said.
Franks also is encouraging buyers to use the store’s online option to cut down on time spent in the store.
Bob Ramstad, owner of OZ. retail store in Seattle, said he’s seeing fewer customers, but the customers who are coming in are tending to stock up more.
Some of that purchasing behavior is driven by fears shopping could be shut down or severely limited, as has occurred in countries with a coronavirus outbreak such as Italy, Ramstad said.
“It’s a really stressful time,” he added.
Ramstad thinks the effects of the outbreak could be felt for a long time.
“This is going to be impactful for the next three to six months,” he said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Jeff Smith can be reached at [email protected]
Bart Schaneman can be reached at [email protected]
Omar Sacirbey can be reached at [email protected]