MMJ: Cannabis Fever

While it's not the cannapocalypse, patients are definitely stocking up on their medicine

As 4/20 approaches, Tucson dispensaries are altering how they conduct business with the public while medical marijuana patients stockpile flower, edibles and other products during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dispensaries like The Green Halo, in southeastern Tucson, are stretching out their 4/20 deals for seven days to help discourage crowd sizes they would typically see on the international stoner holiday. They also won't be giving away a lot of freebies like T-shirts and stickers due to coronavirus concerns, but are making sure they always have enough product on hand, according to Victoria Poulos, senior marketing manager for Halo Infusions and Extractions.

"It will be a scaled-down 4/20 and we won't be doing a bunch of extravagant things. We won't be giving out as much swag, but we want the public to know Green Halo will not run out of flower," Poulos said. "We're just not encouraging people to come in all on one day. They'll have a week to receive the discounts".

Several dispensaries have suspended walk-in service in weeks past favoring online and phone orders, but The Green Halo is still allowing it. However, no more than 10 people are allowed in the building at one time and all employees are required to wear facemasks and gloves while working. Employees even get their temperatures taken at the beginning of their shift, said Poulos.

"Our number one priority is the health and safety of our patients," Poulos said "We've implemented temperature checks of our employees. We're only allowing 10 people in the building at one time and we've rearranged our waiting room to encourage social distancing."

Trinity Houk, manager of midtown's Prime Leaf, said the dispensary is also spreading out 4/20 specials over three days to help discourage large crowds. She's seen an increase in patients' spending over the past month since Mayor Regina Romero shut down all public gathering spaces on March 17.

"During the first days, there was definitely some panic-buying. Everybody was buying two and three times more than they typically would," Houk said. "I feel like everyone is kind of maxing out their allotments and precautionary buying while thinking about the future."

While crowds have decreased a little in recent weeks, Houk said people are still increasing the size of their purchases. She believes patients are also stocking up to beat 4/20 crowds.

"Most people on average have been spending $300 to $500 per transaction. I've definitely watched each transaction average increase," Houk said. "With 4/20 coming up, it seems to be a deterrent in a way because people know there's going to be large crowds."

Prime Leaf is also still offering walk-in service—up to 10 people in the building at one time—and recently installed sneeze-guards in front of all areas where staff interacts with the public. Employees are also required to wear masks and gloves and the area outside the front door is sectioned off in six-foot intervals for waiting customers, Houk said.

Over at Nature Med in Marana, manager Charles Remy said the dispensary is also limiting the number of patients inside their building and patients are no longer allowed in the dispensary area.

"We have everybody wait outside the building and only bring in five patients at a time and patients at a time and we're not allowing anyone except staff into our dispensary area," Remy said. "That way no products are getting contaminated or handled by anybody other than our staff before it goes out the door."

Nature Med saw a 30 to 40 percent increase in business during the first few days of the shutdown order, Remy said. The unprecedented sales have leveled off for the dispensary in April, Remy said, but he still sees people buying cannabis products in larger amounts than before the shutdown. He believes people are stocking up so they don't have to make as many trips out to the store.

"I don't think it's for a concern that there will be a shortage. It's more of a concern that people don't want to be out and about as much," Remy said. "We've seen consistent buying throughout the last three-and-a-half to four weeks and we're up about 20 percent for the month."

Director of Downtown Dispensary Mohit Asnani said they also saw sales surge in mid-March as the public began to stay indoors. Since then, sales have returned to normal but the company's focus has changed, said Asnani.

"We've changed our focus from being more sales and revenue-driven to more about what are the opportunities for this disease to spread and how do we eliminate those," Asnani said. "Now we're focusing more on online orders, especially pick up and delivery, and getting the right PPE for our people."

Asnani said he's has heard some complaints about the dispensary's new online pickup and delivery system but his employees' safety comes first, he said.

"Our employees safety is first and foremost. They see over 100 people a day so having them exposed to one potentially COVID-positive patient could be really dangerous because not only could it be spread to our employees, it could spread to several more patients," Asnani said. "There have been a couple of patients that didn't understand the gravity of this. But the majority of them have been understanding."

The Downtown Dispensary will continue to push online pickup and delivery sales for the foreseeable future until the pandemic situation is under control, Asnani said.

"I don't see the threat going away anytime soon, so this is how we're going to operate for the foreseeable future," Asnani said. "If there's a cure or a vaccine has been tested or something miraculous happens, it will change. The problem is we have now reached a reality that all of those are at a much lower probability and how we're operating today will probably for a long time."

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