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Amid coronavirus siege, California cannabis sales soar

Eaze billboard
An archival photo of a billboard advertising the delivery service Eaze, one of the many businesses in the cannabis space to report a recent uptick in sales.
(Mario Tama / Getty Images)

The coronavirus pandemic and the prospect of spending extended amounts of time sheltered in place have Californians stocking up on all kinds of items — toilet paper, hand sanitizer and guns to name just a few.

And, based on an informal survey of cannabis dispensaries and delivery services conducted by The Times this week, they are also getting a whole lot of weed.

At Eaze, a San Francisco-based tech platform that coordinates in-state dispensary-to-consumer deliveries, the average order volume was up 38% on March 16 over a typical Monday, according to company spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford. Also up were the number of deliveries (which increased 38%), first-time deliveries (up 51%) and the number of people signing up through the Eaze website (up 105%).

“We’ve seen increases in all these categories statewide since March 13,” Ashford said.

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It’s a similar story from sampling of bricks-and-mortar dispensaries, including MedMen (with 11 doors across California, it’s like the cannabis equivalent of Starbucks).

According to a representative, MedMen has seen substantial increases in online orders for both in-store pickup and deliveries, the number of the latter double compared to the similar time a week ago. At Airfield Supply Company in San Jose, overall sales started to spike on March 12, said chief marketing officer Chris Lane, and have been up about 25% each day since then. “[And] on Friday [March 13], we saw an almost 100% increase in deliveries over what’s typical,” Lane told The Times.

According to Kiana Anvaripour, chief marketing officer for upscale L.A. dispensary Sweet Flower, sales had already been on the rise since the beginning of March and spiked substantially in recent weeks. “Sales are up two to three times,” she said. “And we’ve seen a five to six times increase in deliveries with an average delivery spend up by 40%. It’s just bananas.”

Sweet Flower cannabis dispensary
Sweet Flower’s Arts District dispensary at 614 San Mateo St., left, and a child-proof delivery bag, right. Sweet Flower is among the California dispensaries that have seen sales — and particularly deliveries — soar in the last few weeks.
(Annie Meisel (left) / Sweet Flower (right))

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When it comes to what, specifically, customers are buying, the dispensaries we checked in with report that flower (a.k.a. the dried buds of the marijuana plant) remains the top-selling category but that there has been a noticeable rise in the edibles category (THC-infused gummies, chocolates and the like). Sweet Flower and Airfield Supply Company both point to Kiva Confections’ Midnight Blueberry Camino gummies with 5 mg THC and 1 mg of CBN per piece (CBN is a cannabinoid associated with inducing a restful night’s sleep) as being particularly popular.

The representatives contacted emphasized that the health and safety of their employees and customers remained their No. 1 priority. “I do want to emphasize that the situation is not good for anyone,” Ashford said of the coronavirus pandemic. “I want to be really clear that this is not a boom time for anyone.”

State regulations governing the sale of cannabis-containing products have given dispensaries a few extra hoops to jump through, according representatives for the brands contacted by The Times.

To supplement soap and water, companies from French luxury giant LVMH to L.A. distillery Amass are getting into the business of hand sanitizers to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

One example is curbside pickup, which is a simple way to increase the social distancing to help prevent the spread of the virus. Although it’s no-brainer for tasks such as groceries, dry cleaning and pet medications, it has been less so when buying cannabis-containing products from a licensed dispensary.

“We [just] got approval from the state to expand to curbside pickup, which is something that was previously not part of the regulations. So we had to request it,” Lane said. “Now that we’ve gotten the approval, we’ll be launching that imminently.”

Locally, Sweet Flower added curbside pickup to its social-distancing strategy at its Arts District, Melrose and Studio City locations.

Response to the coronavirus pandemic has also resulted in some bigger challenges to the states’ cannabis businesses.

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An emergency “shelter-in-place” order issued Monday for seven Bay Area counties asked residents to stay at home through April 7 except for essential needs, which included trips to the doctor, pharmacy or grocery store but didn’t specifically address cannabis dispensaries, which cater to a medical clientele as well as a recreational one.

That state of limbo started to clear up city by city late Tuesday when the San Francisco Department of Public Health weighed in, announcing on Twitter that, “Cannabis is an essential medicine for many San Francisco residents. Dispensaries can continue to operate as essential businesses during this time, while practicing social distancing and other public health recommendations.”

Likewise, San Jose, according to communications director Rosario Neaves, is interpreting medical cannabis as falling under the “health-care operations” provision of the order and, therefore, is allowing dispensaries to remain open. “We realize there are some dispensaries that operate as medical and others as recreational,” Neaves said, “but we’re not currently making any distinction.”

Lane feels certain that this is a pivotal moment for cannabis retail, likening it to the paradigm-shift caused by Amazon Prime’s two-day delivery program. “It made online shopping more convenient than brick-and-mortar,” he said. “and created that instant gratification moment.

“I think what we’re seeing here is that exponential hockey-stick [graph] moment,” Lane said. "[The coronavirus] was a forcing function, and now hundreds and hundreds of people are having a great positive first-delivery experience that could really change the way people think about purchasing cannabis moving forward. I think this is cannabis’ Amazon Prime moment.”


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