High Times

Photo: Courtesy of Oregrown
Customers shop at Oregrown's Portland location, before the outbreak

The cannabis industry is experiencing a big boom due to COVID-19, leaving marijuana store owners with big responsibilities.

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From restaurants to movie theaters to hotels, the outbreak of coronavirus has ground many businesses to a halt. 

Yet for Aviv Hadar, co-founder and CEO of cannabis dispensary chain Oregrown, business is booming. 

There was excitement, and a little astonishment in his voice, when I asked him to calculate how much sales have increased: They have more than doubled over the past month.

“Our sales have soared on the retail side,” says Hadar. “For the first time we’re seeing what the medi-curious customers look like: people who come in for anxiety issues and PTSD. We get a lot of veterans in here.” 

Hadar says the outbreak of the coronavirus might have led to more anxiety among consumers, who are curious about using marijuana and CBD products for stress relief. In precarious times, people need something to relax. 

Market research company Brightfield Group found in a survey that 31% of cannabis consumers plan to use the product more frequently as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Few planned on changing their preferred way of consuming cannabis.

The report also found an increase in users who plan to consume CBD products. 

According to marijunana delivery platform Eaze in California, first-time deliveries increased 51%, and the number of people signing up through the platform jumped 105% since March 13th. 

Navigating the outbreak has not been smooth sailing, however. 

Hadar had to put new guidelines in place to keep staff and customers safe. “COVID has impacted the business in every possible way,” he says, from creating social distancing at the counter, to changing the way products are handled, to making products available for delivery.

The biggest change, and potential challenge, will be how the virus affects seasonal revenue. Cannabis consumption increases during spring and summer months, but Hadar is not sure those trends will apply this year.

“The virus has affected the way spring break is going to go; it’s affected the way 4/20 is going to go, which is like our Super Bowl. We have to figure out how to navigate this new territory.”

For those unfamiliar, April 20 is considered a holiday for marijuana enthusiasts, who use the occasion to celebrate and consume their favorite plant. 

The dispensary owner is also aware that in difficult times more acts of generosity are needed. His company has chosen to provide free meals to children who would normally receive them at school and donate funds to animals in need. 

Thomas Potiowsky, chair of the economics department at Portland State University, says he is not certain the spike in cannabis sales will last. “Incomes will be down, even with the relief checks,” he says, referring to the federal government’s decision to send $1,200 checks to taxpayers to offset the economic impact of the pandemic 

“People will be stretched to spend on non-essentials like alcohol or cannabis,” he says.  

Historical data show alcohol consumption increases during times of recession and heightened anxiety, and cannabis might follow the same trend. If that is the case, consumption could level off as spending decreases. 

It is also possible the spike in cannabis consumption simply represents a change in consumer behavior due to quarantine. 

As bars, theaters and restaurants shut down, people are at home more often. Instead of other forms of entertainment, they are spending their money on things that can be consumed from the comfort of their own couch. 

“How else will people get through streaming old TV shows from the 50s and 60s?” says Potiowsky. 

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