Marijuana retailers went ahead with plans to open their doors for recreational sales and took precautions to deal with the threat of coronavirus.
After three months of steadily increasing sales of recreational marijuana, the rapid spread of the coronavirus had a quick and noticeable impact.
The week that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer closed restaurants and bars, except for carry-out food orders, marijuana users took notice and rushed to pot shops to stock up. Sales were up more than $1 million that week to $5.7 million, the biggest jump in weekly sales since retailers began selling legal weed on Dec. 1.
“We were seeing the same hoarding behavior that we saw happening in grocery stores,” said Mike Elias, the CEO of Common Citizen, which owns marijuana shops in Battle Creek, Detroit and Flint, as well as a grow operation in Marshall. “People were buying in mass quantities.”
But when that order expanded to make it mandatory that people stay at home except for essential tasks, the sales for the week that ended March 29 dropped by more than $1.2 million, the largest weekly drop in sales.
“The day before the stay-at-home order went into effect, we had the largest single sales day since Lume has been in business,” said Doug Hellyar, president of the Lume Cannabis Company, which has eight marijuana retail shops, including one that opened in Walled Lake on March 28. “Immediately after the order, people had stocked up and the demand has declined significantly.”
The Marijuana Regulatory Agency sent out guidelines to cannabis business saying that retail shops for both medical and recreational marijuana could stay open, but could only offer curbside pick-up or delivery service. The shops were otherwise closed to the public.
The grow and processing facilities also could stay open to maintain the integrity of the growing plants as long as business owners maintained appropriate social distancing between employees at the businesses.
Now that the stay at home order has taken hold, sales are starting to rebound, said both Elias and Hellyar, although state figures for the week won’t be available until early next week.
“When customers bought mass quantities early on, they are now now simply running out of product,” Elias said. “I think they’re consuming more because they’re home and have a lot more time on their hands.”
The average sale at Common Citizen’s shop in Flint went from $86 last week to $100, Elias said. And customers are starting to get used to and actually like both curbside pickup and delivery.
Hellyar said he expects those forms of customer service will have a long-lasting impact on the business.
“We think there’s going to be a significant amount of interest in the delivery service,” which will start this weekend, he said. “And if we’re allowed by the state to continue curbside pickup, we want to continue to offer that because it’s simple and people don’t have to leave their cars.
“And there’s probably going to be an interest from people in maintaining social distancing for some time.”
As for the possibility of drive-thru service at pot shops, state regulators say that’s not on the horizon anytime soon.
One thing that has changed for pot shops is the shift in sales to more people buying edibles, rather than smokable products such as marijuana flower or vapes. The coronavirus hits the lungs and respiratory systems hard, making it difficult to breathe and smoking more dangerous.
“I’ve switched from smoking to eating edibles,” said Matt Abel, the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “After smoking for 45 years, it’s not an easy habit to put down, but it works the best for health reasons.”
Elias said that’s a message that his business is pushing on social media.
“We’ve seen a large spike in edible sales from people trying to stay healthy by avoiding smoking,” he said. “We’re telling people they should avoid buying flower and vaping at this time
The $47.5 million in sales of recreational marijuana products have brought in $7.8 million in revenues to the state from the 10% excise tax and the 6% sales tax.
In November 2018, Michigan voters approved legalizing marijuana for recreational use for anyone 21 and older. Sales of legal weed came a year later and now, 84 shops have been licensed by the state to sell recreational marijuana, although not all of them are operational yet.
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