Now that the World Health Organization has officially declared COVID-19 a true pandemic, most everyone is beginning to pay attention to the spreading disease — including marijuana users. The marijuana industry was already limping along at the beginning of this year, as many weed businesses continue to struggle to find funding and sufficient support from their communities. How is this new global threat affecting sales, and do either weed users or weed sellers have anything to fear?
Marijuana is a drug for all occasions, whether a user wants to spend time alone or relax with company. Yet, as cannabis becomes legal in more parts of the country, weed enthusiasts have become accustomed to gathering in rather large groups to celebrate their favorite plant. Unfortunately, due to physical distancing mandates — including a federal guideline that strongly discourages gatherings of more than 10 people — many of these marijuana events have been postponed if not outright cancelled. While some of these events were small, local affairs, some are large and could affect the industry as a whole. For example:
- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo cancelled his tour of states with legalized recreational weed. The tour was to inform Cuomo about extant marijuana regulation to better prepare him and his state for recreational legalization in 2020 — but because he must postpone his trip, it is likely that there will be delays in ratifying recreational weed legislation and finalizing reforms to medicinal marijuana laws.
- The Cannabis Cup, which determines the best strains and growers of the year, has been postponed indefinitely. Hosted by High Times, one of the oldest and best respected marijuana publications, the Cannabis Cup is revered for its ability to skyrocket the sales of certain strains and catapult growers from their garage into massive greenhouse operations. As yet, there isn’t any news about when (or if) the Cannabis Cup will take place this year.
- Various music and culture events, like SXSW and Coachella, have been cancelled or postponed. Though neither SXSW or Coachella are directly related to weed, they are events where the weed industry benefits. The suspension of these events could delay or eliminate massive infusions of cash to the marijuana industry.
By law, marijuana cannot be imported or transported over state lines, which means that Oregon marijuanaenthusiasts enjoy delectably local bud, while users in Nevada, Vermont, Alaska and elsewhere utilize cannabis grown within their state borders. However, many of the other elements of cannabis sales are manufactured out of state — in fact, many of them are produced in China, the epicenter of the pandemic.
China moved quickly to contain COVID-19, quarantining cities in Hubei province and shutting down public activities that might spread the virus — but it didn’t move quickly enough. As of this writing, there are roughly 90,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, and more than 3,000 Chinese have died from the disease. The country is suffering severe shutdowns across its massive territory, which means that the manufacturing processes the world depends on are ground to a halt.
Within marijuana, this most directly impacts the manufacture of vape pen hardware, which is produced almost exclusively in China. As a result, some dispensaries and vape shops have suffered a shortage of goods, an inability to deliver vape tools to customers who demand them. Fortunately, China’s manufacturing seems to be powering back up rather rapidly, so vape pens and related paraphernalia might once again be available relatively soon.
Finally, the factor most members of the marijuana industry are eager to hear about: the sales figures for cannabis during the pandemic. Already, cannabis sales had been dropping for about a year; despite the fast and furious legalization of recreational marijuana around the country and high valuations of various pot stocks, retail weed sales have long been steadily declining to nearly everyone’s dismay. Experts have dug up various reasons for this unexpected consumer behavior, from indecorously high taxes to a booming black market to a loss of novelty.
The pandemic isn’t exactly helping matters, but it isn’t hurting, either. Many cities are restricting hours of operation, and because few states permit online marijuana orders or home deliveries, consumers have less time during the day to stock up on marijuana. Plus, it is increasingly clear that COVID-19 is worse for those with less-than-hale respiratory systems, so many would-be smokers might be avoiding inhaling bud to keep themselves out of harm’s way. On the other hand, the stress and fear associated with the pandemic are driving many people to self-medicate with relaxing substances, especially weed, and some states, like Oregon and California, have reported spikes in cannabis commerce. Some dispensaries around the country have lines outside their shops and around the block, much like grocery stores.
The future isn’t clear, but one thing is for certain: recreational marijuana isn’t going anywhere. Though this pandemic has landed some hits to the cannabis industry, eventually the threat of COVID-19 will subside and marijuana operations will resume as normal.