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As Pandemic Escalates, Cannabis Proves Itself to Be “Essential”


COVID-19 is devastating countless industries, but the regulated cannabis markets carry on.

People may be stuck at home, but it appears they’ve found at least one thing to keep them going: cannabis.

From California to New York City, reports of surging weed sales (both regulated and illicit) are coinciding with orders from state governors to stay at home in hopes of mitigating a catastrophic outbreak of coronavirus.  Writing for Buzzfeed, Scaachi Koul spoke with a Denver budtender who reported an additional $10,000 in sales a day over what she normally saw.

Another seller — this one in Dallas, where cannabis remains illegal — told Koul that he normally makes about $2,000 each weekend. “This past weekend,” he noted, “I made $4,000.”

While quantifiable numbers on the illicit market remain scarce, regulated sales spiked dramatically prior to “stay at home” orders being issued in a given state. Unfortunately, sales appear to reduce drastically once such mandates were in place. On Tuesday, Marijuana Business Daily reported that adult-use cannabis sales in California, Colorado and Washington were all suffering as a result of the economic fallout surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Data provided by the point-of-sale company Headset suggests that all three markets are in the midst of a swift downturn following a few weeks of huge sales. The worst news comes from Colorado, where sales were reportedly down 47% from for the last weekend in March when compared with this time last year.

Regardless of these developments, the fact remains that legal cannabis sales continue while many other fields of industry are indefinitely shuttered. Why? In large part, the answer is advocacy from groups like NORML, who have loudly called on a number of states to list cannabis as an “essential” business. These advocates are trying to ensure dispensaries, manufacturers, and cultivators won’t be forced to shut down as part of social distancing efforts.

These actions speak to a truly seismic shift in public opinion, with some taking to social media to note how weed went from “illegal” to “essential” seemingly in the blink of an eye. For as long as cannabis remains illegal on a federal level, that won’t be entirely true, but the sentiment does reflect a reality in which states with regulated weed markets are allowing them to continue operating as a necessary public need.

In truth, the issue over how to regulate cannabis in the midst of a global health crisis continues to play out in real-time.

In California, local officials for the city of Berkeley sent operators into a panic on March 26 when they announced, effective immediately, only delivery would be allowed. Having previously given approval to curbside pick-up, the action took many of the city’s dispensary owners by surprise. Within 24 hours, the order was rescinded.

Meanwhile, health concerns have also made it possible for some advancements in the industry.

For example, Colorado issued its first cannabis delivery license on March 19 in hopes of providing a more sanitary way for patients to receive medicine. While recreational delivery isn’t expected to arrive in Colorado before 2021, the choice to expedite the normally cumbersome process of approving delivery permits (even medical-only) speaks to the importance of the public’s access to safe, quality medicine.

There are many unknowns about what comes next, but whatever happens, cannabis patients will hopefully take small comfort in knowing that society has at last deemed their needs an “essential” service.

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