The Bulletin - The Commerce of Cannabis in the Age of the Coronavirus

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This is a reposting of The Bulletin article, originally published 3/26/20. 
Link to original article by David Jasper here.

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The phrase “safety meeting” has long been used in marijuana-using circles as code for “Let’s take a break and smoke.” Like so much else in our suddenly socially distant culture, the idea of sharing a pre-roll or a pipe is, for many, largely out of the question for now.

But marijuana sales — and safety — have both picked up steam as precautions and rules change frequently. “We power the online ordering for over 750 dispensaries in the country, across 23 states and Canada,” said Ross Lipson the founder of dutchie.com, a Bend-based, e-commerce solution for dispensaries. “We offer pickup, delivery and now curbside (service)."

Last week, Lipson saw his company averaging 40,000 orders a day, about $3.5 million in sales a day across all dispensaries. That’s about a 400% increase over usual sales.

Christian Hernandez, 22, is a budtender and social media specialist for Miracle Greens. The dispensary in Bend has noticed a recent uptick in customer traffic and sales. “Today was absolutely crazy,” he said on Monday. “We seem to be one of the last stores open.” Hernandez, 22, said that it was one of his busiest shifts in the nearly two years he’s worked at the Bend dispensary. During his seven and a half hour shift, “I probably served like 40 people. Compared to a normal shift, we usually get anywhere between 20 and 30 on a fairly average day, per (budtender). … We’ve had a huge influx of everybody else’s customers,” Hernandez said.

Tokyo Starfish, a dispensary with three locations in Bend, including one next door to Miracle Greens’ location on Third Street in Bend, closed all three of its shops by Friday evening in an attempt to be safe and compliant with the frequently changing rules governing their industry.

“Our first concern is the health and welfare of our employees, customers and the community as a whole. As this situation unfolded, we gave all employees the option or right to determine their risk threshold,” said Gary Bracelin, a partner in Tokyo Starfish.

“All employees who were high risk or had high-risk people at home, or were just anxious about the situation, could take time off with no risk to future employment. We also altered our processes and cleaning to above recommended standards several weeks ago. Since that time, we started closing stores and limiting schedules for the remaining stores. Last week, we made the tough but responsible decision to close all stores and reassess our processes and safety protocols according to Kate Brown’s guidelines to businesses on Friday."

Prior to that, Tokyo Starfish was seeing a surge in sales, as was Substance, another Bend dispensary with three locations. While people weren’t necessarily stockpiling, they were buying more than usual as consumers prepared for possibly lengthy stays at home, said Substance owner Jeremy Kwit, adding that in normal times, the shop’s busiest two days of the year are Christmas Eve and the day before Thanksgiving.

“They’re stressful days. Cannabis is the best coping tool there is for handling family,” Kwit said. “Family are the people you love but you don’t always like, so it puts everybody in good spirits and in good cheer. It helps to smooth out some of the wrinkles of our family dynamic.”

The coronavirus coupled with hunkering down with family hits those same nerves, he believes. “So now people are consuming cannabis for a similar personal reason. What’s going on right now is really stressful. It’s really traumatic. And when I think about the consumption of cannabis around family, a lot of those people have some forms of trauma in their lives, and so when they’re with their families, it kind of triggers a lot of that, and so cannabis consumption has certainly increased at present, because there’s a lot of trauma that’s getting triggered, and a lot of anxiety, and a lot of stress.”

And though customers of his three Substance locations in Bend were definitely buying more than usual last week, it wasn’t remarkable. “What we’re seeing is increased patronage, and increased visitation,” he said. “We’re not seeing huge changes to the average ticket.”

What was notable, Kwit said, was his customers’ willingness to experiment with new ways of enjoying cannabis.

“I think this is a unique time for individuals who enjoy cannabis to experiment with other product categories,” he said. “What we’re seeing are folks being a lot more willing to try a tincture, or an edible or a vape when they may have only consumed flower. And vice-versa. And I think the reason is that people are at home with lots of time and so they can try new things. It’s like trying out a new food recipe. It might take you half a day, but what’s the rush? You’re home all day.”

On Tuesday, Tokyo Starfish announced it would reopen its south location on Wednesday for online ordering and curbside pick-up per a new, temporary rule from Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which allows licensed marijuana retailers a temporary rule to conduct limited transactions outside their licensed premises, which would support social distancing to promote the prevention of the spread of the COVID-19 virus, according to the OLCC. 

“Order online from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Tokyostarfish.com to pick up curbside at the South store (61230 S. Highway 97). This service is powered by local company Dutchie,” Bracelin said in a follow-up email. “The other two stores will remain closed until further notice but we hope to have them follow suit and providing curbside pickups soon. Utilizing the new OLCC allowance for curbside pickup puts us in or above accordance to Governor Brown’s Executive Order and State guidelines.”

Miracle Greens employee Hernandez said he’s noticed that edibles seem popular right now, but he’s all about a strain of flower called Franken Cake as his own usage is concerned.

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