With marijuana dispensaries deemed to be essential retailers in many US states, the last few months have seen the tables well and truly turned on the status quo. Not only is cannabis being sold openly, but the cops that used to harass dealers are now busting shady barbers for performing unlicensed moustache-trims and rebellious restauranteurs for serving unsanctioned spaghetti. Yet with laws varying wildly from one place to the next, the overall impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the global cannabis landscape makes for interesting reading.
If the epidemic has demonstrated anything, it’s the ridiculousness and inconsistency of cannabis regulations. Step over an imaginary line on a map and all of a sudden weed is transformed from a medicine to a narcotic. The virus, meanwhile, has little respect for these local regulations and insists on affecting everyone equally, which only serves to highlight the unfairness of this unlevel playing field.
After all, it’s abundantly clear that demand for marijuana products has skyrocketed over the past few months, largely thanks to the unprecedented levels of anxiety that the coronavirus pandemic has inspired. In the UK, for example, a recent survey found that a record 8.4 million people are now using CBD[i], while a study conducted by the University of Miami found that anxiety is currently among the leading reasons for cannabis use globally[ii].
In states where weed is legal, this has resulted in something of a cannabis boom, particularly as the legal situation allows dispensaries to try out new ways of reaching customers during the lockdown. In Michigan, for example, recreational marijuana sales only began on December 1st, yet 66 of the state’s 104 dispensaries have already been approved for home delivery, meaning people can now order their supply from the safety of their home[iii]. This has allowed sales to increase steadily since the pandemic began, with April’s revenue up 40 percent on the previous month.
Compare this to Massachusetts, however, and it’s impossible not to feel a sense of injustice. Despite recreational marijuana being legal here as well, only those dispensaries that exclusively provide medical cannabis have been allowed to remain open during the lockdown. To make matters worse, those retailers that have been forced to close are ineligible for either the CARES Act or the Paycheck Protection Program – which provide financial relief to businesses affected by coronavirus – as cannabis is illegal at the Federal level. As a consequence of these legal contradictions, many dispensaries are now facing collapse[iv].
Another thing that the pandemic has taught us is just how robust illegal drug markets are, which perhaps isn’t that surprising. After all, The War on Drugs flopped spectacularly, so a flu-like virus was never likely to make a dent. Quite the opposite, in fact, with reports in the UK indicating that spiralling demand for marijuana has resulted in dealers raising their prices – some by up to £100 per ounce[v]! It is thought that many people are stockpiling cannabis in order to combat anxiety and boredom, while others are simply enjoying a cheeky smoke while working from home without their boss noticing.
According to a recent survey by Release, many dealers have been following the lead of other retailers by taking extra precautions to ensure their safety and that of their customers. The use of gloves and facemasks has become standard procedure, while many no longer accept cash, instead insisting on being paid online. Furthermore, to avoid spending too much time away from home, some dealers are now reportedly only accepting minimum order deals and even charging delivery fees[vi].
Consumers, meanwhile, have also adapted to the situation, with the survey indicating that 90 percent of smokers have considered switching to edibles in order to protect their lungs while the virus continues to lurk[vii]. Many have also decided to play it safe and order their cannabis online along with their groceries, rather than risk leaving the house. According to a new EU report, darknet marketplace Cannazon has seen a massive rise in cannabis sales over the past three months, shifting a total of 1.6 metric tonnes of weed in that time[viii].
All of which leads us to a rather delicious irony: for years, lawmakers have been desperate to bust online weed retailers, but even they would have to admit that in these strange times of social distancing, cannabis e-commerce may actually prove vital in flattening the proverbial curve.