It’s hard to say if the legal cannabis industry has “escaped” the economic downturn from Covid-19, or risen above it.
In any event, local legal marijuana dispensaries, which were designated by the state as essential businesses, have remained open and have fared better than many other small-businesses during this two-month pandemic pause.
Beach & Bay Press and La Jolla Village News caught up with two local dispensaries for a Q&A to discuss how they’ve been holding up against the economic downturn.
BBP: We’re hearing that there was a surge in business for marijuana dispensaries in March and April after the virus hit. Was that true with your business?
URBN LEAF: “Initially yes,” said Kendall Barquist, store manager at Urbn Leaf, which has three San Diego dispensaries and covers coastal and other areas of the City and County. “Especially once we put in the new policy for following lockdown protocols, social distancing and mandated facemasks.”
COLUMBIA CARE: “That was exactly our experience,” said Carolyn Kates, promotions and community outreach specialist with Columbia Care San Diego Dispensary at 4645 De Soto St. in Pacific Beach. “In March, we had a record number of shoppers, who seemed to be ‘stocking up’ for their quarantine. However, as soon as the official ‘stay at home’ order came, our sales dropped in half.”
Added Kates: “As the weeks went by, many people lost their jobs and it seemed as if they had less expendable income. Finally, some of our customers opted to have their cannabis delivered by a delivery service, which we do not offer at this time. All those resulted in our sales dropping each week, except for the weekend prior to 4/20, and on 4/20, when we witnessed a return of our shoppers, almost back to normal.”
BBP: Tell us a little bit about your clientele, are they from the surrounding area?
URBN LEAF: “Usually we primarily have tourists because we’re the closest location to the airport,” said Barquist. “But since the travel ban due to the pandemic, we started to get people from all over including North County and Temecula. I would say our sales went down about 30% after the travel ban, but the business has been pretty consistent ever since. We always have bodies here. But before the pandemic, we had the entire lobby filled and lines out the door. Now it’s just consistently busy.”
COLUMBIA CARE: “Over half of our clientele are tourists and visitors to Pacific Beach,” said Kates. “The other half come from all around San Diego County. Because of that client mix, we were also adversely affected by the beaches and the boardwalk being closed for over six weeks. When tourism suffers, our dispensary also suffers.”
BBP: Were you surprised at all that marijuana dispensaries were determined to be essential businesses?
URBN LEAF: “I’m so proud to be in this industry,” said Barquist. “We went from illegal to essential within two years. It’s been an amazing thing to see.”
COLUMBIA CARE: “No, we weren’t surprised,” said Kates. “We are both a medicinal and recreational dispensary and have a significant number of seniors and disabled veterans that shop at our store for their medicine.”
BBP: Have you totally, or mostly, switched over to take-out as opposed to people coming inside your place like dine-in restaurants?
UBRN LEAF: “We were initially just doing pick-up orders,” said Barquist. “But once we received more clarity on restrictions, we decided to stay open through this pandemic with state-mandated laws in place. Now gloves are mandated for every employee, and no patrons are allowed to touch any product.”
COLUMBIA CARE: “We closed our physical store on April 6 and reopened May 8,” said Kates. “Our clients were still able to order online via Weedmaps, IheartJane, walk up to the window and order or phone-in their orders and pick-up. We also had curbside pickup available. In response to closing our physical store, we created a virtual shopping app-VirtualCA.care, on which our clients could meet with a budtender to get their questions answered or to get product suggestions.”
BBP: Once the lockdown is lifted, do you expect business to bounce back?
URBN LEAF: “I think we will bounce back no problem,” said Barquist. “There will always be a need for cannabis now that it’s legal. The clientele will always be there. If anything, we’ll be back – and better than ever.”
COLUMBIA CARE: “I think that our business will return,” said Kates. “It may be slower than we want it to be. But, we will all find a new normal way of being, and for selling and buying cannabis.”