Adult-use cannabis dispensaries in Massachusetts that have been temporarily closed for the past two months as part of emergency orders to shut down nonessential businesses will be allowed to offer curbside pickup beginning Memorial Day.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker discussed his four-phase plan to reopen businesses in the state, one of the top five in the U.S. hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, during a press conference May 18. The plan is to reopen the economy slowly in phases, and as part of the first, retailers in the state can offer curbside pickup starting May 25.
Each phase will last a minimum of three weeks, though each has the potential of being extended, according to the “Reopening Massachusetts” report released by the Gov. Baker administration. Phase 2 includes guidance for nonessential retailers to reopen with “restrictions and some capacity limitations.”
The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) released additional guidance after the announcement, referencing state resources for procedures to reopen safely. In addition to adult-use retailers, those licensed to cultivate, manufacture, process and test cannabis under the adult-use program are able to resume production as of May 18, following social distancing and safety guidelines from the state.
Adult-use cannabis dispensaries have been closed since March 24, when the nonessential business shutdown orders announced the day before took effect, while medical cannabis dispensaries in the state were deemed essential and allowed to continue operations while following social distancing guidelines.
Reopening adult-use sales after being shut down for nine weeks, and doing so on a holiday, will be akin to opening the store's recreational segment for the first time, said Ellen Rosenfeld, president of CommCan, a vertically integrated cannabis company licensed under the medical and adult-use programs with two dispensaries.
Rosenfeld was part of a group of plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit in response to Gov. Baker's orders that did not classify adult-use dispensaries as "essential" businesses like their medical counterparts.
“I have no idea what [May 25] is going to look like. I have no idea if there will be 1,000 people or 100 people,” she says. “It will be like the first day we opened; we have no idea what to expect.”
However, she said she is prepared, and predicts that medical sales will be up this week ahead of reopening the adult-use side at the Millis location, where she sells to both the medical and adult-use markets. She has been operating medical only since the shutdown orders took effect, and estimates that she's lost $2 million in revenue.
“We already have curbside pickup. I was anticipating this, so we brought in more wireless debit card readers so that we could service more people in the parking lot,” she says. “I’m hopeful that people … when they see it’s crazy, they will go home and come back. I’m hopeful, but I will be prepared for this pent-up demand.”
Since the adult-use shutdown took effect, medical patient registrations have increased significantly in the state, according to data from the CCC. There were just over 72,500 certified, active patients in April, which was up from 63,720 in March. Rosenfeld says she guesses those newly registered patients will stay in that program, as they are not subject to the high taxes and other limitations on the adult-use side. Others point to this data as proof people who were not registered as medical patients consumed cannabis for health reasons, and the shutdown was detrimental for patient access.
Nicole Campbell, who owns The Green Lady Dispensary, an adult-use cannabis retailer on Nantucket, the island county about 30 miles from Massachusetts’ mainland, has been closed for two months. However, she says the ability to reopen is coming just in time, as the island’s population generally grows from about 10,000 year-round to nearly 60,000 “summer residents,” or people who spend two or more weeks there, Campbell says.
“I’m relieved. There’s a big weight lifted off my shoulders today,” Campbell said May 18 after the press conference. “I’m so thankful and am really happy for all of the residents of Nantucket. We’ve had so many people call us today wanting to know the news about when we can open. So we’re really happy that they can finally have safe, legal, tested access to cannabis on the island again.”
Because the business is surrounded by federal waters, the vertically integrated company licensed for adult-use does everything in-house, from cultivation to processing and even testing out of its 7,300 square-foot facility, as it is unable to ship or receive cannabis products. Campbell is hopeful she can ramp up production of tinctures, edibles and the other products they offer this week.
She purchased a wireless debit card reader ahead of the announcement and has more on the way, anticipating curbside may be the only option at first, and that dispensaries would not be allowed to conduct cash transactions outside the stores. However, before making official announcements about new in-store procedures to customers, she waited for additional guidance from the CCC, which was released later May 18.
“This is all proof that legalization works right? Because we’re so regulated that we have to listen to the Cannabis Control Commission ... where they provide further guidance on the additional details," she says.
Though many are postponing travel and vacation plans this summer as uncertainty about COVID-19 looms, Campbell is optimistic that people will still travel to Nantucket, as many have homes on the island.
"People really are looking forward to get away, get outside of their cramped quarters that they've been living in, especially if they're coming from Boston or New York," she says.