Demand for cannabis hits record high in California, dispensaries deemed ‘essential’ during COVID-19

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A customer checking out of AHHS Weho. Photo credit: Jason Beck.

California has deemed cannabis dispensaries an essential business under the state’s “Stay at Home” order. Dispensaries continue to serve patients and customers across Los Angeles, with some new precautions in place. 

Demand for cannabis across the state is at an all-time high. Weedmaps (a dispensary listing service) reported the highest number of orders it has ever seen, nearly doubling the average sales of previous annual celebrations on April 20, the globally recognized day dedicated to cannabis.

At Alternative Herbal Health Services in West Hollywood (AHHS WeHo), customers are lining up to purchase cannabis flowers, concentrates, and edibles in greater bulk than usual. 

Shop owner Jason Beck says, “Average tickets have definitely been up. ... Customers and patients are definitely stocking up to ensure that they have adequate supplies at home to get them through this pandemic.”

Under proposition 64, California’s adult-use cannabis law, there are limits on how much cannabis one person can buy per visit, capping flowers at one ounce and concentrates at seven grams. Customers and patients who require higher amounts must return to dispensaries and buy more, increasing their exposure and risk to COVID-19. Yet, many of them are willing to take that risk. 

Nina, who didn’t want to give her last name for fear of losing her job, is a 75-year-old regular customer at AHHS Weho. She continues to shop there during the pandemic. She says, “It's a medical necessity.” 

She uses cannabis to treat her anxiety and two forms of glaucoma. Her husband, 85, uses CBD to treat pain resulting from leukemia. She’s greatly concerned about the increased risk of complications from COVID-19 for people their age. She says, “People over our age ... who get it will get serious conditions. And we could die.”

Some dispensaries offer delivery, and delivery services like Eaze and HERB are still up and running. But many patients and customers rely on the selections and services at specific shops that they’re used to. 

Nina says of AAHS WeHo, “I know the quality that they carry and I trust them.” She’s willing to undertake the potential increase in risk if it means getting the products she knows will work for her. 

The dispensary is also doing their best to reduce risk for customers. Beck says, “We have been wiping down the counters on a much [more] frequent basis. … We are not allowing customers or patients to actually smell the flowers. So in that way, we're keeping safe distances from them. … A lot of our customers may have weak immune systems, and we want to make sure that we're protecting our staff as much as we're protecting our customers and patients.”

Additionally, customers who come into the store must wait in line at least six feet apart. For higher risk patients like Nina, the shop offers curbside pickup. She can pull up, hand money to a staff member, and they will put her order in her trunk and send her on her way. 

Patients’ and customers’ aversion to risk is also affecting the products they are purchasing. Sales of edibles are way up and those of vape carts are down. That’s likely due to recent vaping illnesses arising from tainted carts. Smokers and vapers are at increased risk for COVID-19 too.  Beck says, “Because the coronavirus is a respiratory disease, people want to try to limit a little bit more of the amount of cannabis that they would intake by smoking it.” 

Dispensary staff are also at an increased risk because they’re exposed to many customers per day.  But Beck says at least their jobs and incomes are secure for the time being. 

As the pandemic continues to get more serious and some states like Iowa and Massachusetts close dispensaries, Beck is determined to continue slinging pot. He says, “If some of our staff gets sick, I'm definitely going to fall in and take over some of their shifts for them. … We are team players, and we have no anticipation of closing our doors during the pandemic.” 

Credits

Guest:
Abdullah Saeed - Cannabis media maker and host of the podcast Great Moments in Weed History

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Jenna Kagel, Rebecca Mooney