Colorado Cannabis Industry Proves Resilient in Pandemic

Pandemic pick-up windows at cannabis dispensary Chronic Therapy in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. (Amanda Pampuro / CNS)

DENVER (CN) — Even in a pandemic, Colorado’s cannabis industry appears as resilient as the weed it sells.

Although nobody’s counting the buds before they’ve bloomed, many marijuana businesses saw spikes in sales in March and following the distribution of stimulus checks ahead of April 20, which many celebrate as National Pot Day.

“We are grateful to be open. I think the most important thing is the safety of our public health in general and sales have to take a backseat,” said Truman Bradley, president of the Marijuana Industry Group.

Last year marijuana sales in the Centennial State topped $1.7 billion, generating $302 million in tax revenue. Between January and February this year, the industry raked in $279 million. How large of an impact Covid-19 and the loss of tourism will have on overall cannabis sales has yet to be seen.

Bradley said not to misinterpret the long lines outside pot stores as people just looking for a good time. “A lot of folks who were at one time medical patients have allowed their cards to lapse but are still using cannabis to treat their symptoms,” he said. 

Many people use marijuana to treat chronic health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer, which is part of the reason the Colorado government deemed marijuana an essential business allowed to operate with modifications through the stay-at-home orders.

The other reason? A March announcement of dispensary closures led consumers to crowd pot shops, panic-buying the green gold while they could.

“I call it prohibition day,” said Bryce, manager of Chronic Therapy in Wheat Ridge, northwest of Denver. Like many cannabis industry employees, he asked that his last name not be used in this story. “The line went from our parking lot all the way to the bowling alley next door.”

Given the green light to operate, Chronic Therapy’s manager Bryce had pick up windows built at the shop in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. (Amanda Pampuro/CNS)

When Gov. Jared Polis reclassified cannabis as essential he also relaxed restrictions enabling online ordering with in-person pick up.

“Then the next day, they said we’re going to allow weed sales and we got to work,” Bryce said. Within 24 hours, Chronic Therapy launched its online ordering system and built four plexiglass pick-up windows in front of the shop.

Now customers order online and wait six feet apart to pick up their goods from the window.

To facilitate the transition of laid-off employees into other sectors of the workforce, the Marijuana Enforcement Agency also updated its rules to allow laid-off casino workers to use gaming licenses in place of the marijuana-specific identification badge to work in the cannabis industry.

The spread of novel coronavirus put thousands of Coloradans out of work, throwing the state economy from record low rates to record high rates of unemployment. At the beginning of April, initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits topped 80,455 — compared to an average weekly claim of 2,044 last year.

Hiring can therefore be an important mark of solvency. A glance at Indeed.com’s job board confirms dozens of cannabis companies seeking new workers each day, from managers to cultivation technicians, pre-roll associates and budtenders.

One marijuana infusion company, Medically Correct, not only hired new workers last week, it’s still planning on launching two new brands in the coming months, including luxury chocolate brand Nove’ in June.

The company’s founder and president, Bob Eschino, said commercial kitchens are already sterile environments, but since the pandemic hit, they implemented split shifts and added hand-sanitizer stations and foot baths to facilities. The company also identified workers at high risk of contracting the disease and sent them to work from home.

“Our goal over the last four weeks has been to make sure that everybody in the facility is safe and taken care of,” said Eschino.

Between the constant threat of the federal government shutting them down and local-level changes in regulations and packaging, Eschino said he’s used to adapting on the fly.

“I always joke about cannabis problems being Tuesday’s problem,” Eschino said. “Coronavirus is the new problem — it’s far more serious than anything we’ve ever faced, but I think the whole team has the same mentality that we just need to adapt and do what’s right.”

File photo of flower and prerolls in a Denver dispensary, taken long before the pandemic began altering how businesses are allowed to operate. (Amanda Pampuro/CNS)
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