The novel coronavirus pandemic has greatly impacted cannabis retailers, cultivators, processors, suppliers and other industry representatives, according to a recent survey of Cannabis Dispensary readers.
In a survey conducted at the end of March via Survey Monkey, when asked “How much of an impact has the COVID-19 outbreak had on your operation?” 49% of readers indicated “a great deal,” while another 25% selected “a lot.”
The majority of respondents indicated that they operate either a medical cannabis dispensary, (25%), an adult-use dispensary (25%), both (22%) or are vertically integrated (16%).
Eighty-two percent live in places that are under a stay-at-home mandate, but 81% said their businesses are considered essential, and more than 73% said their businesses are still providing normal services.
There are both challenges and opportunities for businesses that can remain open and have adapted during the outbreak. Responses were mixed when asked about how sales have changed during the pandemic, but more than half (54%) reported sales were up, consistent with anecdotal reports of customers stockpiling cannabis in both medical and adult-use markets, while 26% said they have decreased. For 21% of respondents, there has been no significant change.
“Honestly, business has been great,” one respondent wrote in an open comment section.
“This has affected the business in a way that was unexpected to me,” wrote another. “My business went up tremendously. I believe people are scared to be home without marijuana.”
Others noted the surge in sales but worry about the industry’s long-term viability with supply chain and other challenges. When asked, "How much of an impact has the COVID-19 outbreak had on your supply chain?" 19% selected "a great deal," 10% reported "a lot" and 25% indicated "a moderate amount."
“While the store traffic has increased, we expect this to be short lived as people stock up and then hunker down,” one participant wrote. “Our manufacturing company sales have plummeted as dispensaries and other retailers (as we manufacture both marijuana and hemp) are unsure of the future and their abilities to stay open. However, our [dispensary-to-consumer] sales on our website have increased. Our manufacturing company is having a hard time stocking supplies like bottles, droppers, lids, and some raw ingredients. Our dispensaries are struggling to find exit bags at a reasonable price.”
When asked for other thoughts on how COVID-19 will affect the industry, some responded that navigating the ever-changing policies has been difficult and confusing, while others are concerned about the risk of coronavirus transmission through products and packaging.
“It has been a whirlwind. New laws and guidelines are coming out daily. It’s been difficult deciphering what is real and what is fake,” one participant wrote. “I’ve spent numerous hours on the phone with the department of health, Marijuana Enforcement Division, etc., trying the make sure we’re doing the right thing.”
Despite social distancing measures and, in some cases, moving partially or exclusively to online and delivery services, about 40% reported no staffing changes. However, 27% have had to temporarily decrease staffing levels/hours and 8% have had to lay off staff. A small number have actually increased staffing levels during the pandemic (3%) and 5% indicated they have hired more people. Others reported on open comment section that employees have been calling off, either because they are sick or from fear of contracting COVID-19.
Most respondents reported that they offer sick leave for staff, with 39% indicating they have always offered the benefit and have made no changes during the pandemic, 17% responding that they have expanded the number of hours, and 4% who previously did not offer sick time but are during the crisis. However, 40% offer no paid sick leave for staff.
“Employees are required to put themselves on the front line and risk exposure to a clientele that has total disregard for current circumstances,” one respondent wrote. “We put policies in place for individuals to obtain their medicine safely and sanitarily, but it’s easier for them to just come in. So customers blatantly disobey what is requested of them, ultimately making our jobs more stressful and mentally overbearing.”
Many have taken steps to protect staff continuing to work and provide an essential product and service to customers, implementing extra cleaning and sanitation practices (71%), offering outdoor or curbside pickup (44%), staggering work hours in line with social distancing recommendations (41%), offering delivery (19%), hosting meetings outside (11%), and temporarily shutting down (10%). For staff that are able, companies also indicated they are allowing employees to work remotely (47%).
“Our only concern is being able to continue to serve our customers who rely on cannabis products as a vital part of their health care,” one respondent wrote. “We … are so passionate about this industry and care so deeply about our customers that we are willing to put ourselves at risk by keeping the dispensary open so they can have safe, reliable access to the same quality products they've come to depend on.”
Editor’s Note: Cannabis Dispensary surveyed readers March 24-April 4, 2020, using third-party website Survey Monkey. Findings are based on 146 respondents who participated in the survey.