Coronavirus drives cannabis sales bump, then slump

Published on March 6, 2020 · Last updated July 28, 2020
COVID-19, marijuana, stores, supplies

The rapid global spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 affects every industry on the planet, legal cannabis included.

Early reports indicate dispensaries and adult-use cannabis stores on the West Coast are seeing a mix of sales bumps, or sales slumps, depending on the level of local infection.

Seattle bump, then slump

The CDC recommends everyone have at least one month’s supply of medication on hand—in the likely event supplies are strained, or local stay-at-home orders of 14 or 28 days are issued.

For many folks, cannabis is their medication.

Early this week, one customer reported Have a Heart Belltown experienced a run on cannabis products that led to at least a temporary drop in supplies.

Seattle has seen a number of coronavirus buying sprees in the past week, most notably at local Costcos, where February sales were up 12%. Toilet paper and other essentials are now in short supply.

One prepared Seattle shopper said: “I definitely purchased up to my limit in all three major product categories (edibles, flower, concentrate), whereas normally I only hit my concentrate limit (by way of infused prerolls). And this choice was solely informed by me wanting to avoid extra trips out of the house.”

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

Another Seattle shopper said: “I stocked up this week more than usual to the legal limit at multiple dispensaries but the dispensaries (Zips and The Reef) were actually all pretty empty with no lines.”

On Wednesday afternoon King County, which contains Seattle, asked all businesses to switch to work-from-home, amid nine COVID-19 deaths and uncontained community transmission. By week’s end, the number of people riding mass transit traffic to work might have fallen by half. Downtown business broadly suffered.

Friday, weed customers reported that stores seemed much quieter.

“No pain or urgency or anything. Fully stocked. If anything it was less busy,” said one Seattle shopper after a Thursday run.

Hashtag Fremont staff reported a significant slowdown by week’s end.

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COVID deals and sales

Anecdotally, Seattle cannabis retailers appear to be battling the foot traffic slump by texting deals and sales to store followers.

One store offered 10% off online pre-orders in an email to customers that read: “Working from home for a while? Shhh nobody has to know ;)”

Meanwhile in San Francisco, where the depth of COVID’s spread is just beginning to emerge, retail sales remained strong last week into this one, said Kevin Reed at The Green Cross.

“It was a busy weekend for sure,” he said. “There were a couple of budtenders that told me a couple customers mentioned [prepping] to them. They were stocking up, but with California law, they can only stock up so much.”

The legal carrying limit in California is one ounce of cannabis flower.

Over at Barbary Coast in downtown San Francisco Friday, a budtender there said foot traffic has been strong, with a small, but significant percentage of customers buying $400 worth of flower, dabs, or vape pens to stock up.

Legal cannabis is a $10.73 billion US industry that powers 243,700 jobs. Store operators have started planning for what the CDC calls “severe” disruption to everyday life.

“What is happening now in the United States may be the beginning of what is happening abroad,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, at the CDC on Tuesday.

Cannabis for colds and flu? Here’s what the experts say

In just 90 days, COVID has exploded past 100,000 worldwide cases and 3,600 deaths in more than 70 countries. The extremely contagious virus has swamped regional and national healthcare systems.

As that happens, the CDC recommends aggressive “non-pharmaceutical interventions” like social distancing to break the chain of transmission. That means closing schools, canceling events, and asking people to stay home, and out of public places like stores.

'We’ll do a flash sale if it looks like things are going to close.'

California dispensary operator Debby Goldsberry at Magnolia, Oakland has an 18-page coronavirus plan that includes a flash sale to blow out stock and get cash in the door, rather than have product sit in a closed store for a month.

“Traffic is normal right now. We’ll do a flash sale if it looks like things are going to close,” she told Leafly on Friday.

The Bay Area has confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alameda, Solano, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties. Depending on the rigorousness of the state’s response, some West Coast cities could be weeks away from Italy-style quarantines.

“I think people will stock up when they see it coming,” said operator Goldsberry.

Are you prepped for COVID-19? How are weed stores and supplies in your area? Comment below.

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David Downs
David Downs
Leafly Senior Editor David Downs is the former Cannabis Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. He's appeared on The Today Show, and written for Scientific American, The New York Times, WIRED, Rolling Stone, The Onion A/V Club, High Times, and many more outlets. He is a 2023 judge for The Emerald Cup, and has covered weed since 2009.
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