California lead the way in the modern cannabis policy reform movement in 1996 with the implementation of the Compassionate Care Act (Prop. 215), the legislation responsible for making it legal for doctors to recommend cannabis to patients.
Fast forward to today, adult-use is legal in several states and most importantly, reports confirm that legal cannabis is a $10.73 billion US industry that contributes to approximately 244,000 jobs. Nevertheless, we cannot speak about today without acknowledging the elephant in the room: COVID19.
The rapid global spread of COVID-19 affects every industry on the planet, legal cannabis included. Early reports indicate dispensaries on the West Coast are experiencing a mix of sales highs, or sales lows, which are directly related to the level of local infection. Increasing demand indicates business will certainly continue, but given the resent “stay at home” mandates and the continuous rapid spread of the disease, it is safe to say it will not be business as usual.
The impacts of the current coronavirus pandemic are far-reaching, and to date, there is no clear indicator of when things will normalize, as nearly every sector of society and the global economy are facing unprecedented challenges.
The cannabis industry, legal, gray or black, experiences a set of unique circumstances during a time of crisis. Some of which are similar, and some of which are in direct contrast to traditional industries. A good example to highlight is the employee safety assurance factor. With the pandemic, employees may be forced to stay home due to illness, quarantine, and childcare. This can potentially lead to workforce shortages, as well as distress amongst employees over payday worries. Other concerns for cannabis businesses and location-based businesses alike are interruptions in the supply chain; a concern that is directly related to business operations requirements by local authorities, employee safety and availability, and travel restrictions.
One of the many challenges that are specific to cannabis is marketing, believe it or not. Most organizations are not concerned about this particular aspect of business, because many of their marketing channels remain uninterrupted, their main product is not federally illegal, and the culture of their industry is not centered around community.
On any given day, marketing and advertising in cannabis are already characterized by roadblocks and frustration. For that reason, the industry relies on group gatherings and events to get the message to the masses. The coronavirus is responsible for the cancellation of all group gatherings, such as seminars, networking functions, and entertainment events for the near future following guidance from officials. Furthermore, April 2020 (4/20) was highly anticipated by the cannabis industry as businesses and consumers planned to celebrate the plant all month long. Such high expectations have been trumped by the uncertainty set forth by the pandemic as consumers are now discouraged to congregate or pass the joint until further notice.
For now, all we can do is get creative by thinking outside of the box to keep our cannabis businesses afloat; all while doing our part to help slow the spread of the virus through measures like staying home, washing our hands often, and following public health official recommendations when it comes to avoiding crowds.