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Stuck-at-Home Bay Area Consumers Stocking Up on Pot

Cannabis dispensaries that offer delivery are struggling to keep up with demand.

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I talked to a bunch of cannabis retailers last week just as six Bay Area counties were deciding whether to declare pot to be an "essential" business, and therefore exempt from any shutdown orders. All of them told me that sales were soaring — in some cases more than doubling over their pre-pandemic levels. Most of them figured it was possible, and even likely, that if pot were indeed declared to be "essential," sales would start to slow as people came to realize that they would still be able to get their weed.

But that hasn't happened, generally, at least for dispensaries that offer delivery. Sales are still booming — even after not only those six counties but the entire state declared pot to be "essential."

Sales "have not abated at all," Gretchen Giles told me on Monday. She's the spokesperson for Airfield Supply of San Jose, a large retailer that last week reported that delivery orders had quadrupled over just a couple of days. They're still at about that level, and Airfield is struggling to keep up with demand. "It's difficult to stay staffed," Giles said, noting that Airfield employees have been encouraged to make the best decision for themselves as to whether to keep working. Some of them have opted to stay home, with a bit of help from Airfield, which gave all workers a 12.5 percent raise and a week's worth of extra pay, and allowed those opting not to work to keep their health benefits and the option of returning when this is all over.

It would appear that the rise in demand is largely organic: in other words, it's not just panicked buying in anticipation of supplies being cut off, it's that people at home want their weed. It makes sense: folks trapped in their homes with a Netflix account and a pantry full of Doritos and Nutter Butters are bound to want a toke or two as well. (It's not a joke: Bloomberg News reported this week that demand for comfort-affording junk food is way up, while demand for quinoa and kale is down). And people are scared, so they might be "self-medicating at higher levels," Giles speculated.

By most accounts, while deliveries are slower than normal thanks to both soaring demand and staff shortages, everybody who wants cannabis can get it, and it's likely to stay that way for a while. Supply chains for most products are still up and running, which isn't so surprising given that, in legal states, all cannabis is sourced in-state. Of course, this could all change if the pandemic is severe enough and ends up lasting for months on end. But for now, a look at any Bay Area retailer's online sales platform shows there's plenty of product on hand, and prices haven't shot up.

Eaze, the delivery platform that serves much of the Bay Area and runs its own delivery service in the East Bay, said sales peaked early last week, having risen by 38 percent over normal. But new signups are way up, 71 percent higher than average. And new delivery customers are higher, too, according to Elizabeth Ashford, Eaze's senior director of corporate communications. It "makes sense" for new signups to have soared, she said: it signals that "people who are respecting the quarantine" and "looking to manage stress while cooped up" are turning to cannabis.

If consumers are at all worried that a delivery person might expose them to the virus, it's not showing up in the sales figures. It helps that dispensaries are making every effort to ease such concerns. Eaze's retail partners make their own rules (Eaze simply facilitates deliveries for them), but it has asked all of them to adhere to a strict protocol to keep contact with drivers to an absolute minimum. For instance, drivers are signing receipts with an "X" on behalf of customers. All are wearing gloves and using hand sanitizer before and after each delivery. They're asking customers to pay with exact amounts whenever possible to avoid the need to make change, and they're keeping six feet between themselves and customers at all times. Debit-card transactions are done with a stylus or a finger attachment.

It's far too early to say for certain, but it's possible, even probable, that a lot of people placing orders now are newcomers to cannabis, or are returning to it after a long time away. That could translate into a larger customer base in the long term. Still, even if that's the case, it also seems likely that the current spike in sales will ease somewhat in the coming days and weeks after people have stocked up. "It would seem logical that it will level off in the near future," Giles said.

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