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While people were buying all of the toilet paper and rushing to grocery stores to get food before Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, there also was a rush of business at Ottawa’s marijuana dispensary.

Verilife, which operates the dispensary in Ottawa, among others in Illinois, saw a sharp increase in sales in mid-March.

Katie Leander, a project administrator with Pharmacannis, the company that runs Verilife, theorizes the spike was due to customers being concerned about the stay-at-home order and whether they would have access to the dispensary.

She confirmed this week that medical and adult-use marijuana demands have remained high, even during the COVID-19 crisis.

Both medical and recreational marijuana were deemed essential “to ensure the cannabis supplier industry protects medical cannabis patients during the COVID-19 pandemic,” and because revenue generated by adult-use sales funds social justice and equity goals that are “at the core of Illinois’ adult-use law.” 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, designated caregivers are allowed to pick up medical marijuana for the patients they care for, and dispensaries can sell marijuana to medical patients or caregivers on a public walkway or curb adjacent to the dispensary property. Dispensaries are not permitted to deliver medical cannabis to a home, however.

Recreational marijuana sales must still take place inside the limited access area of the dispensary.

Despite the stay-at-home order being in place for 11 days in March, adult-use cannabis sales in March totaled $35.9 million. Dispensaries across the state sold more than 812,000 items over the 31-day period. The March sales topped February’s $34.8 million and fell short of January’s $39.2 million.

Leander said Verilife has put measures in place to enforce social distancing and increase cleaning and sanitation protocols.

“While demand is still high, as you can imagine, our new protocols are slowing down sales, but for a good reason,” Leander said. “We have had to close a few point-of-sale stations at each store so that we can maintain six feet of space for social distancing between them.”

Leander said these slowed sales, but the slower sales aren’t because of lower demand.

“There is no doubt that the cannabis industry will be impacted by this pandemic, just like almost every other industry,” Leander said. “That said, given our industry’s unique state-based approach, we are constantly adapting and we are used to being nimble in our operations. We are confident that we will survive this, and we, like everyone, look forward to this being over soon and getting back to life as normal.”

• Capitol News Illinois reporter Jerry Nowicki contributed to this report.

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