In the wake of a “shelter in place” order issued simultaneously by six Northern California counties on Sunday, March 15, long lines were observed at several San Francisco dispensaries. The reason? An initial omission of cannabis as an “essential service” by the city, which caused many consumers and patients to ignore vital social distancing precautions as they raced to stock-up on edibles and joints before the order took hold at midnight on Monday evening.
By Tuesday afternoon, San Francisco’s Department of Public Health had changed course, noting that cannabis was indeed an “essential” service. At present, that means limited hours for pre-order pick-ups at dispensaries in the city. Delivery — a vital resource for patients with mobile impairments and a no-brainer solution during a pandemic — remains unavailable for now in SF but a plan is reportedly in the works.
Looking at the numbers, it’s evident that toilet paper and comfort food weren’t the only big buys as people planned their extended exiles at home.
According to the cannabis data intelligence firm Headset, adult use sales of cannabis were 56% higher on Monday, March 16 than numbers for the preceding four Mondays. Headset also reports that edibles were an extremely popular buy, enjoying a 107% gain over normal volumes. By comparison, sales on April 20, 2019 — the “high holy day” of cannabis — charted a 120% gain over normal.
California’s Driven Deliveries likewise noted a 20% increase in transactions and a 10% rise in order value since the first case of coronavirus in the state was publicly announced. The popular delivery service Eaze reported a 34% increase in the number of customers registering for its service, in addition to an increase in the size of individual orders prior to the halt on deliveries by the city of San Francisco.
Elsewhere, Bay Area counties like Alameda and Oakland gave cannabis the “essential” distinction from the get-go. Looking across the U.S., states like Massachusetts, Illinois, and New York are all supporting home delivery and curbside pick-up as solutions while COVID-19 precautions remain in full effect. Michigan’s Governor, Gretchen Wilmer, signed an executive order to protect the ability of cannabis retailers and delivery services to operate during that state’s shutdown orders, while the New York Department of Health is permitting previously registered medical marijuana delivery organizations to continue operating without written approval.
All these different tactics, setbacks, and displays of generosity reveal several core facets of where the cannabis industry stands today.
The empathy inherent to medical marijuana operations that risked prison time prior to California’s Proposition 215 in 1996 has returned in the form of licensed operators fighting to ensure their patients aren’t left without access to medicine. The drastic changes forced upon our society by COVID-19 also show that, unlike other industries which enjoy the support of the federal government and largely adhere to national policies, each state—and in some cases, the cities within those states—are being forced to figure this out on their own.
Many are arriving at the right answers, but with no safety net and the menace of federal prohibition still firmly in place, how this industry will weather the unprecedented challenge of a pandemic remains to be seen.
It’s almost certain, however, that an edible or two will help.