Under California’s shelter-in-place orders, those in their cars are likely travelling to essential businesses like grocery stores, banks, gas stations — and cannabis dispensaries. All have been deemed critical services during the statewide quarantine effort, and one Denair pot shop is seeing a big boost in sales.
Retail cannabis dispensaries were left in the dark following a March 19 declaration by Gov. Gavin Newsom that the state’s population should “stay at home” in order to curb the spread of COVID-19, leaving only to perform duties or errands at essential businesses throughout California. The following day, Newsom issued clarification that marijuana dispensaries are indeed considered medical facilities — one of the 16 industries considered vital to everyday life.
Ashley Kaderlik, manager of The Honest Choice dispensary in Denair, said that while some may raise their eyebrows at the term “essential” being used to describe retail cannabis sales, there are countless community members who benefit medically from products the business offers.
“We do have a lot of sick people who come in,” she said, such as former opioid addicts who have switched to medicinal marijuana or cancer patients who utilize RSO oils to help give them an appetite while undergoing treatment.
“There are a lot of different benefits when it comes to medicinal marijuana...we can’t just turn our back on those who really need it.”
Even many who don’t have a doctor’s recommendation to utilize cannabis use the plant recreationally, such as those who struggle with anxiety — something countless customers are going through as a result of the pandemic, Kaderlik noted, including herself.
“I don’t like to ‘pop pills,’ per say, and there are a lot of people who can’t even get prescriptions for their anxiety,” she said.
All state-licensed marijuana businesses are considered essential under the state policy, including cultivation, distribution, manufacturing and testing labs in addition to dispensaries. There’s also no differentiation between medical and recreational cannabis companies, which means all licensed marijuana businesses can remain open during the lockdown.
In a news release, the Bureau of Cannabis Control also gave dispensaries the green light to continue operations as long as they follow local regulations, but emphasized that all businesses still needed to adhere to the Center for Disease Control’s guidance on how to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
At The Honest Choice, Kaderlik and the staff have taken plenty of precautions to protect both themselves and their customers. Prior to the pandemic, customers could approach the glass display case to see what products were in stock and compare them to each other. Now, however, a rope barrier keeps them distant from the display and the budtender.
In addition, employees wear gloves and wipe down all surfaces in the shop in between each customer, and they monitor their temperatures throughout each shift. Those who don’t wish to enter the shop due to coronavirus concerns can also call in their order ahead of time and park in a designated parking spot where an employee will bring their products out to the car.
“My hands are so dry from washing them all the time,” Kaderlik said.
Despite the governor’s orders, there has still been some confusion for cannabis patients, Kaderlik said. Last week, customers flocked to the store to make large purchases in the midst of all the uncertainty.
According to a graph by Marijuana Business Daily, cannabis sales in California increased by 159 percent on the Monday before Gov. Newsom’s order, and continued to sit at about 50 percent above normal throughout that week.
“We were super slammed last week. I think a lot of people just didn’t know if they were going to be stuck at home, so a lot of people were really stocking up,” Kaderlik said. “We would have regular customers who usually buy an eighth of weed come in and buy an ounce of weed — just an abundance of stuff.”
The Honest Choice also started up a delivery service for the first time about a month ago, she added, and prior to the pandemic, things were slow. Now, it’s hard for the shop to keep up with orders.
“It was perfect timing,” Kaderlik said.
In Turlock, the City’s cannabis pilot program is well underway. Turlock is allowing an unlimited number of marijuana cultivation, distribution, manufacturing and testing sites, as well as four dispensaries that have yet to open in town.
So far, conditional use permits for two of the four retail cannabis businesses opening in town have been approved: Firehouse (1601 W. Main St.) and Perfect Union (2500 N. Golden State Blvd.).
City Attorney Doug White said in December that Turlock’s dispensaries would begin to open in March at the earliest, but it’s unclear how the pandemic has affected the process. White and the already-approved dispensaries were unable to be reached for an update by press time.