COVID-19 restrictions sparking a run on cannabis stores

Published on March 15, 2020 · Last updated September 13, 2022
quarantine, coronavirus, covid-19 closures
They're not closed yet! Customers are stocking up on cannabis this weekend, preparing for what could be more retail store restrictions in coming days. (Krizde/AdobeStock)

This story was updated at 11:45am PDT on March 18, 2020.

As governors and mayors across North America order the shutdown of bars, restaurants, and gathering events, cannabis stores are experiencing a dramatic surge in sales that started over the weekend and now continues into the work week. (Leafly has an updated page tracking store closures, openings, and new delivery allowances.)

Consumers are stocking up now, eyeing their potential future over in Europe, where some nations have closed all retail outlets except food stores and pharmacies.

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Cannabis and coronavirus: Here’s what you need to know

On Saturday, Boston’s WGBH broadcast images of customers lining up outside New England Treatment Access (NETA) in Brookline, one of the few licensed cannabis stores operating in Massachusetts. WGBH’s Tori Bedford reported:

In Brookline, marijuana dispensary New England Treatment Access has eliminated all walk-in orders due to a high volume of customers, and will now only serve customers who place orders in advance. “In light of the current environment, we will remain open,” an announcement on the NETA website reads, “but will move to Reserve Ahead only starting on Saturday.”

Inside the Brookline store, employees wear latex gloves, and bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray sit beside each checkout station. The process is efficient, a quick in-and-out, as compared to the massive lines seen snaking around the parking lot of the shop in the past few days, according to NETA employees.

Later Sunday, Boston Mayor Mary Walsh imposed new restrictions on the city’s bars and restaurants. Those establishments will have to cut their capacity in half, and close by 11pm every night. As of now, there are no unusual restrictions on cannabis stores.

Also Sunday, the governors of Ohio and Illinois ordered all bars and restaurants closed. By mid-day Monday, similar orders had been issued in too many states to mention.

Stores moving to pre-order and pickup only

In Chicago, MOCA dispensary has gone medical-only, discontinuing adult-use sales.

On Seattle, Have A Heart is limiting the number of customers allowed in stores at any given time. All online orders get 10% off.

On Monday morning, Higher Leaf stores in Kirkland and Bellevue, WA, went to a mandatory pre-order system. “We will also be limiting the number of customers in the store so as to maintain a safe distance between people,” the store announced.

California sales spiking

In California, delivery services and stores report 4/20 and Black Friday-style sales volume has arrived early this year, thanks to COVID-19.

Overall, delivery services are doing brisk business as people socially isolate. Statewide delivery service Ganja Goddess Delivers reports month over month sales traffic spiking first 20%, then 50%. The California Delivery Alliance reports sales are way up across all the states 200 or so licensed delivery services.

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In San Jose, Airfield Supply Co. announced free delivery and has experienced a 100% increase in sales in the last two days.

At the brick & mortar level, The Farmacy retail stores are seeing less of a bump than delivery services, but still double-digit percentage increases.

The Green Cross adult-use cannabis store in San Francisco reports many shoppers buying up to the legal limit (one ounce) in California. Up from just a few shoppers prepping last week.

Over at Harborside in Oakland, owners asked customers Monday to use their delivery service, as well as online order ahead options.

Writer and editor Lindsey Bartlett sent out this tweet from an Orange County store on Saturday:

Las Vegas: Customers line up on Wednesday

A statewide shutdown of non-essential businesses, ordered on Tuesday afternoon by Gov. Steve Sisolak, sparked a run on cannabis stores on Wednesday morning. Here’s the scene:

Sales data showing surge over past week

The cannabis data experts over at Headset have been tracking the surge. They report:

Sales of Adult Use cannabis in WA were up 23% on Friday, 14% on Saturday, and 33% on Sunday (over prior week). This was driven by a modest increase in total baskets (about 6% increase in tickets) and a large increase in average basket. Average baskets on Sunday were $33.70 before taxes, up 22% over the prior week and 28% compared to baskets in Jan and Feb of this year.

Update: Dutch coffeehouses still open for takeout

In cities across the Netherlands, consumers lined up outside that nation’s famous coffeehouses to stock up on supplies before a nationwide shutdown took effect on Sunday. The government had announced that all cafés and coffeeshops must close at 6pm until April 6.

Our friends at VOC Nederland retweeted this video of customers lined up outside a coffeehouse in the Dutch city of Groningen:

But wait! On Monday morning, the Dutch government revised its order and allowed coffeehouses to remain open for takeaway orders only. Government ministers realized a ramp-up of illicit trade could be a greater public health hazard than regulated retail.

Shopping tips during COVID

  • Use licensed delivery—if available—in your area.
  • Use Leafly Pickup to order ahead, and save time in-store.
  • Go early when the store opens to decrease exposure to others.
  • Keep six to nine feet apart from others.
  • Consider personal protective equipment like gloves, masks, and goggles when in enclosed spaces—like stores—with strangers. (Remember to discard that equipment afterward, and decontaminate, so as not to bring contamination inside your home.)

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Bruce Barcott and David Downs
Bruce Barcott and David Downs
Bruce Barcott is Leafly's deputy editor and the author of 'Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.' David Downs is Leafly's California bureau chief and the author of 'Beyond Buds' and 'The Medical Marijuana Guidebook.'
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