Sunday, September 25, 2022

Why the pandemic was a breakout moment for the cannabis industry

This article is part of To own the future, a series on how small businesses across the country have been affected by the pandemic.

“I expect this will be the first year that Nevada sells over a billion in cannabis,” said Nicolas MacLean, CEO of Aether Gardens, a cannabis producer in Las Vegas. “And it happened on the back of what I think no one expected.”

Last March, Strip went dark in its first total shutdown since the murder of pastor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. In the ensuing weeks, Las Vegas became the firing point for the United States. With closed casinos, the number of visitors fell to just over 100,000 in April 2020 from 3.5 million in January 2020. The fall sent the state’s small businesses – including the cannabis sector – in a tailspin.

“The first week, the government did not distinguish between important and non-important companies,” MacLean said. “Dispensaries went into a state of panic and asked if they could send the product back to us.” (Recreational marijuana is legal in Nevada, although only authorized pharmacies can sell it.) Inside Aether Gardens, a 120,000-square-foot space, 14 miles away from the Strip, Mr. MacLean and his staff their latest fall.

“We had spent the last year perfecting our flower,” MacLean said, “and we were caught in the middle of Covid with the best flower we had ever had.”

At the time, the company offered Dosi-Woah, a sedative strain in which the indica species is dominant with buds in a mixture of green, gold and bright orange. It also had Zweet Insanity, a strain rich in terpenes, the compounds responsible for the plant’s often powerful scent, with large, greasy flowers that provide a relaxing effect. Both varieties also provide the high levels of the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that hard-hitting visitors seek. But with none of these customers in town, MacLean saw cannabis through a new lens: How could it help with pandemic-related stress and anxiety?

Apparently quite a bit. Despite inconsistent public health orders from state and local governments on whether cannabis companies would be considered “essential,” the industry had a breakout moment during the pandemic. Legal sale of cannabis in the United States passed $ 17.5 billion in 2020, a 46 percent increase over sales in 2019. For many Americans, filling marijuana was just as important as filling toilet paper. And the industry found a way to get it to them.

In Las Vegas, it meant engaging local residents. Five days after Government Steve Sisolak issued his first emergency declaration, the Nevada Health Response COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Initiative announced that licensed cannabis stores and medical pharmacies could remain open but encouraged delivery activity and social distance. Sir. MacLean remembers queues of cars, five blocks long, waiting to be picked up on the street. While Nevada businesses had always relied on tourism dollars, the Las Vegas metropolitan population of two million residents year-round suddenly looked like a strong replacement customer base.

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“The locals are very picky – they want something they can’t find on the black market,” he said. “Especially when you are stuck at home, you put more emphasis on things like terpene and cannabinoid profiles on top of THC levels, bud structure and aroma, which is information you get when you buy from the legal market. And last year, it played our hand as a high quality flower cultivator. ”

To meet the growing demand, Aether Gardens built a new advanced greenhouse delivering its first harvest this month. Tourists (and their discreet vape pens) return, but Mr. MacLean does not expect the local business – or the demand for premium flower – to disappear anytime soon.

Oswaldo Graziani Lemoine, the creative director of the Florida-based company Liquid cannabis care, saw a similar demand for flower when the pandemic hit. But he knew exactly who was buying: half a million Florida residents who have medical cannabis cards. (Adult recreational use is not legal in the state.) The question was, how would Fluent manage retail during the pandemic?

“Florida is a place where masking becomes political,” Graziani said, “so even though we were able to keep our 19 locations open, we encouraged online orders and street pickup.” This included offers such as Silver Sundays (10 percent discount for ages 55 and older), Student Saturdays (10 percent discount with student ID) and all week 20 percent discount on fast pickup (pickup of online orders) for new customers.

“For us, it was less about the experience in the store and more about offering our customers offers and the easy pick-up,” said Graziani. As the company looks at future expansion, he envisions stores designed solely for quick pick-up: no lobby, no counter, just pre-order and drive-through.

“If you do not like barricades being thrown at you all the time, like a video game, this is not the industry for you,” said Meg Sanders, CEO of Massachusetts-based. Canna Regulations. In March 2020, the obstacles came quickly and furiously. Although recreational marijuana use is legal there, Massachusetts is the only state that distinguishes between medical cannabis distributors and adult retailers, which meant pharmacies like Canna Provisions had 48 hours notice to close.

“Having liquor stores considered essential and not using cannabis for adults – especially when the law passed in Massachusetts was about regulating cannabis as alcohol – was surprising and unfortunate,” Sanders said. After paying all her employees for another two weeks and agreeing on the fact that the cannabis companies were not eligible for Paycheck Protection Program loans, she took a hard look at her business model and began to draw a way forward.

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“We immediately understood that our way of interacting with our customer would have to change,” Ms. Sanders said, describing the focus of the Canna Provisions pharmacy in Lee, Mass., As an education-focused personal service. Located in the heart of Berkshire County, where nearly three million visitors come each year for leaf viewing, skiing and picnicking, “our store is very much a part of the experience,” she added.

Unlike the traditional deli-versus-style dispenser, Canna Provisions has thrived on interactive, guided group shopping. “Our average customer age is 50 years or more,” Sanders said. “They have questions they want to learn, they don’t want to feel rushed because there is a line growing behind them.” Prepandemic, Canna Provisions had as many as eight guides on the floor at a time, training groups on topicles, brownies, and pre-developed joints. But during the pandemic, that atmosphere of weed-focused learning disappeared.

“Imagine that transaction in a parking lot where two people are wearing masks, six feet apart, and it’s just not the same,” Ms Sanders said.

Canna Provisions faced another hurdle when it eventually reopened with limited pick-up on the street two months after the shutdown. “Our county is an internet desert, so we had to help people who did not have access or did not have the computer skills they might need to pre-order online,” Sanders said. Faced with this reality, she transferred her operations to telephone orders to maintain the human and educational touch that customers had become familiar with.

When clients call Canna Provisions, the first voice they hear is the sound of a skilful courier – sometimes Mrs. Sanders herself – guiding them through the shopping experience. From suggesting strains – like the locally grown Stardawg (Corey Cuts) Smash Hits, a relaxing and uplifting hybrid with “a tendency to become philosophical”, as the company’s website puts it – to processing the order, each phone guide gives the same dedicated attention which customers would experience in the store.

“And it works,” said Mrs. Sanders. “In our Lee store, pre-orders have become almost 100 percent of our business, so we bought more handsets and hired more people to answer phones, and our revenue is higher.”

When the Covid restrictions on retail activity were eased last summer, Canna Provisions opened its second store inside a 150-year-old wallpaper factory in Holyoke, Massachusetts. In the new 4,000-square-foot space, Ms. Sanders and her team can once again offer their guide-led customer service experience. She described the way cannabis tourists explore space and take in all the curious design elements: antique rubber stamps, recycled metal signs and the figure of a T. rex smoking a joint.

“We sat down to take a destination,” she said. “And we nailed it.”

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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