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As countries manage the current public health emergency and work to stabilize the health of millions, the global economy has been slogging behind.

Due to the need for physical distancing, many small businesses across the U.S. and the world have come to a halt, leading to less consumption and what has by some been called a recession.

But essential businesses — like grocery stores, pharmacies and certain manufacturers — have been able to continue their operations, often doing quite well. One of those essential services in California includes the cannabis industry.

Just before shelter-in-place orders came into effect across the country, cannabis sales boomed. According to the cannabis data analytics company Headset, California cannabis retailers during the week of March 16 saw sales increase almost 100%, likely because people were stocking up for fear of not being able to purchase medicinal and recreational products during the crisis. Some cannabis shops reported sales increasing anywhere from 150 to 400%, according to CalMatters reporting. That spike may be subsiding, but it appears the cannabis industry is no worse off yet from COVID-19.

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“When the shelter in place was ordered, we saw a sharp increase in retail sales as Californians were getting ready to be home for a while,” Diana Gamzon, executive director of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, said in an email.

The Nevada County cannabis manufacturer Rough and Ready Goods reported as much.

“At the moment, we’re as busy as ever,” said the manufacturer’s owner Basil McMahon, noting that he is looking to hire another employee. “We’re blessed to have work to keep our employees staffed (and) not have to lay off anyone.”

McMahon said the business has followed strict sanitation guidelines, wiping down high-touch surfaces and ensuring that every worker wears masks, gloves and remains 6-feet apart.

While movement in the supply chain has slowed a bit, according to McMahon, the owner is grateful to still operate his business and continue providing a needed service, especially to those who prefer medicinal cannabis to pharmaceutical alternatives.

Supply chain

Co-owner of the cannabis retailer Elevation 2477’, Daniel Batchelor, while noting a slight slow down in sales, expressed gratitude for being able to remain in business and serve his customers.

According to Batchelor and others in the cannabis industry, retailers, distributors and manufacturers have no access to state or federal money to help their businesses during this time. That’s in part because the federal government considers their products illegal.

Daniel Fink, owner of Down Om Farms, said he’s been happy to see Elevation continue its work.

“I’m very, very impressed with them,” said Fink. “In order to serve their patients they’re really going out of their way.”

Fink, who says he’s instituted sanitization precautions on his farm since January, noted that the supply chain has been a bit “hot and cold” but that, in general, sales have been good.

Mostly, Fink is concerned about two things: older farmers who want to shelter in place but must continue working for lack of government support, and the future of the economy, which could hurt small farmers like himself.

“It’s a real concern going into the future,” he said. “As such, I’m growing more food than cannabis at the moment.”

Abraham Valensky of Green Hummingbird Farms agreed.

“There is still great uncertainty within the cannabis industry, things are unpredictable even without the COVID-19,” he said in an email. “So in the short range I do see an increase in sales, however, future predictions are hard to see as long as the industry doesn’t get relief from all government agencies — from local governments all the way up to the federal level. Until that time it will be hard for me to say where the future may (be).”

NOT SLOWING DOWN

Cannabis cultivation permits have also not appeared to slow despite the coronavirus outbreak. In total, Nevada County has received applications for 116 commercial cultivation permits, with 48 of them already approved to begin cultivation, according to Jeff Merriman, code and cannabis compliance program manager for Nevada County. Twenty-six of those cultivation applications have been received since Jan. 1.

“I can’t answer to any of the state’s processes, but fortunately the COVID-19 crisis hasn’t appeared to have an impact on our traffic thus far,” Merriman said in an email. “If anything, we’re busier than ever. County staff are working at full capacity right now conducting cannabis project reviews, field inspections, et cetera.”

Merriman said he saw no increase in complaints around illegal cannabis activity.

Diana Gamzon, executive director of the Nevada County Cannabis Alliance, agreed, but noted that the black market will persist as long as structural issues, like a burdensome tax structure and lack of more common retail access, remain.

Nevada City’s Cannabis Campus has even continued on track. After completing most of the construction along Searls Avenue, all six tenants have been signed and were given keys to the building at the beginning of the month, according to Lab Properties Marketing Manager Quincy Hilla.

With only the parking lot left somewhat incomplete, it’s up to tenants to renovate their spaces within the building as they wish, said Hilla. As such, it’s unknown as to when the businesses will be fully operational in the campus.

“It’s really up to them when they will be up and running,” she said.

As for local cannabis farmers like Daniel Fink, not much has changed in his personal life. Mostly, he’s just happy to be on his farm, continuing to do what he loves.

“I’m really, really grateful that my job is on-farm,” he said.

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.

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