As I pulled up to my new regular cannabis store, I was excited to see nobody standing in the socially distanced line outside the shop waiting to get in.
Nice, I thought. This will be even quicker than I expected.
But as I put on my mask and got out of the car, the security guard popped his head out of the shop and said, “Sorry, it will be just a minute. We’re a bit late on our store cleaning, but we have to get it done before we can let anyone else in. Boss’s orders.”
I shrugged and laughed it off. I’d waited decades to legally buy marijuana so another 15 minutes here or there — especially in a pandemic — is nothing.
In general, I have found myself waiting in line longer, not only for the cleanings, but because of the reduced number of customers allowed in the store at any given time, but it’s nice to see stores adding new protocols to ensure the safety of the employees and customers. Sometimes the folks in line get antsy and leave, but honestly, seeing retailers clean makes me feel better about the store and besides, where am I going? There’s a pandemic on. I’ve got time.
Such is weed shopping in the era of COVID, I guess.
In the first few weeks of the pandemic, when most states were shutting down in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease, nearly every state that has legal cannabis — medical or recreational — labeled it an “essential” business, acknowledging that many, many people around the country use cannabis as medicine and allowing farms, processors and stores to stay open to meet those needs.
It’s a smart move, not only for the tax revenue that this industry generates (even more important when other retail stores are closed and generate $0 for the states), but let’s be honest: If you want people to sit at home on their couches watching Netflix for a few weeks (months), you should make sure they have access to some weed.
With each new report about consumers’ shopping habits during the pandemic, I checked to see if my own experiences matched, and I was surprised at how accurate it seemed. But even the most accurate analysis can’t tell you what it’s really like to be in a cannabis shop during all of this.
According to the data we’ve seen — and the anecdotes we’ve heard from professionals throughout the cannabis supply chain — consumers are still buying, but the where and what of their purchasing has changed since before COVID-19 hit.
I too have changed my buying habits some.
I have always been enamored with the legal market and love the shopping experience, especially in Washington, which is a very consumer-centric market. Washington retailers have more SKUs on the shelf than any other, mainly because of our state’s ban on vertical integration. Personally, I have no real brand loyalty and while there are definitely companies and products I trust, I generally shop on price point, with a healthy dose of budtender recommendation.
As the pandemic began, there was a surge in purchasing among consumers as they stocked up on cannabis, just like everything else in preparation for several weeks at home. And like most people, I bought my flower in bulk, instead of shopping every few days.
Generally speaking, that is still the case many months later. I still go out in public as little as possible, particularly to retail stores. I still do all the shopping in as few stops as possible, stocking the fridge, pantry and old cigar box under my desk in a single swing, buying in bulk as much as possible.
However, my spending has increased a little too, and I’m also more likely to buy an add-on or be upsold into other products, such as higher-end grams for those times when rolling a blunt is not ideal.
I’ve even started buying more high-CBD flower to help ease the stress and anxiety of this whole ordeal.
Unlike others, however, I have not made the switch to edibles in this pandemic, a smart move with a deadly respiratory virus sweeping the globe. I would have — I cut back on blunts in the beginning for this very reason — but I fall into a small segment of the population for whom edibles do not work. To my body, an edible is nothing more than a very expensive munchie, so flower remains my go-to, pandemic or not.
Perhaps the primary change to my shopping habits, however, has been the where. My primary shop, where the budtenders knew me and the prices were best, was along my commute, an easy right turn into the parking lot about halfway between the office and my home. But since Marijuana Venture, like most businesses, has gone mostly work-from-home for the duration of the pandemic, I no longer commute regularly and that shop is, well, out of the way.
So I’ve started shopping closer to home.
There are four pot shops in my city, located just outside Seattle, including two about equidistant from my house. I have visited both of them during the lockdown, but I visit one much more often than the other, mainly because they have better prices, which they display next to the product (something I prefer and the other shop does not do). In addition, the glass shop next door recently got a license to sell tobacco, so it’s now a one-stop shop for a blunt-smoker too.
Both shops have taken measures to protect shoppers through social distancing and a mask requirement (even before the state mandate at one of them). They now limit the number of people inside the shop, and both the waiting areas (one of which is outside) and the sales floor have marks indicating six feet of space.
In addition to regular cleanings, I even watched one employee take another’s temperature during a visit to one shop. Again, it’s weird and I can see where it could be off-putting to some people, but I found it comforting to see that they not only had these protocols, but were actually paying attention to them.
In all, shopping during the pandemic has been a little more stressful and taken a little longer, but at least here in my tiny corner of Washington state, our industry’s ability to adapt to whatever new regulation the state throws at businesses has made them nimble enough to continue to serve the public through all of this. The stores are clean, the employees are masked and the product is still as good as it ever was.
If you need me, I’ll probably be in line. Which is still better than having a guy with a backpack come to my house in the middle of a pandemic, that’s for sure.