At any given time, six or more people can be seen lined up outside the doors of the Blue Fire Dispensary (six feet apart-of course) as they wait their turn to shop for cannabis products.
Since the stay-at-home order has been in place, a great increase in traffic and sales at Merced’s dispensaries has boosted the local cannabis industry.
Although many retail stores remain closed due to the epidemic, California has deemed dispensaries as “essential businesses,” and thus can operate with certain restrictions put into place. These restrictions include six feet distancing from person to person, and places a limit to the number of customers allowed inside the building.
“All of our workers are wearing gloves,” explained Jeremy Martinez, operational manager at Manzanita Dispensary. “They’re switching them anytime they’re handling cash, and are making sure everything is wiped down regularly. Luckily, we have an open sales floor environment that allows us to create a six-feet buffer that is done pretty well.”
Throughout all three dispensaries, most budtenders — or staff members who assist customers with cannabis products — wear masks, and maintain their distance from customers. With the increase in sales traffic, more contact is being made between dispensary workers and their clientele.
Blue Fire, located at 1975 W Olive Ave, was the first dispensary to open its doors last year with Manzanita, located at 1594 W 18th St, and Infinity, 811 W Main St, opening soon after. All three are implementing delivery services that allow customers to have products delivered to their homes at their own convenience and without direct contact.
With direct and delivery services available, residents are able to purchase cannabis whether it be for recreational or medical purposes.
“I go to the dispensary almost every week,” said Alfredo Elizarraraz, a resident of Atwater. “Although I know my smoking has increased since quarantine began, I still try to stay productive. I do my online homework, I clean the house, and try to do yard work. I miss smoking socially but I know that staying home is the right thing to do. For now, I’ll just enjoy myself.”
As quarantine continues and people remain at home, increased sales are expected to remain steady. “People are at home with nothing to do,” a budtender at Blue Fire mentioned. “They might as well get high.”
With the increase in cannabis use, others question its effect on symptoms of coronavirus and whether smoking may increase the chance of making one ‘high-risk’.
Anna Song, associate professor at UC Merced, along with UC doctoral students Sarah Alnahan, and Deanna Halliday, have released a report on the effects smoking had on COVID-19. Although the report focuses on the smoking of tobacco, they briefly highlighted a concern for smoking cannabis.
“It should be assumed that anything that affects the lungs may be harmful,” the report read. “ While no research has addressed the relationship between combustible marijuana use and COVID-19 susceptibility or severity, previous research on pulmonary infections and vaping suggest that e-cigarettes may increase susceptibility to COVID-19. While we have no definitive answers (yet), it may be wise to limit the personal use of these products.”