Author: Heather Allman

I am a Florida cannabis consumer and cannabis is essential to my ability to participate in my own life on a daily basis.

I use cannabis as a successful part of my medication routine, and I have been fortunate enough to stop taking 19 medications, including opioids. I can walk again without assistance.

You could say cannabis is indeed essential to the quality of my daily life. And I am not alone.

For me and thousands of others, medical and adult-use cannabis dispensaries are essential businesses. Luckily, the majority of states agree:

COVID-19 has undoubtedly transformed cannabis and the metamorphosis is spectacular. Cannabis evolved. Quickly.

Not only have the majority of cannabis companies started thinking outside the box, but they have also constructed a better box along the way.

Our current COVID-19 pandemic has created essential cannabis, but it has also served to accelerate medical cannabis patient interface innovation and increase cannabis product supply and inventory— all while adapting to the crisis.

In his insightful April 13, 2020 article How the coronavirus crisis is reshaping the cannabis industry for the long term, Adam Schaneman discusses the issue at length:

As the market moves through this crisis, companies and their investors will learn to develop built-in resilience, make better assumptions about what could go wrong and put robust practices in place to gird against any disruptions, no matter how major or minor.

And they need to be flexible. Consumers’ purchasing habits are changing, including the method they use to buy cannabis products. Online ordering, delivery, curbside pickup and drive-thru lanes are likely here to stay as customers recognize their ease of use.” 

After first clarifying the need for cannabis throughout the complex patchwork of state laws, the cannabis industry proceeded to excel at anticipating patient and consumer needs and meeting them. 

The vast majority of cannabis companies promptly and effectively improved online ordering across the board. In turn, the industry’s main cannabis players are meeting increasing patient demand with expedited seed-to-sale supply and stocked inventory.

As the pandemic ramped up across the states in mid-March, a marked change occurred in cannabis consumer buying habits and preferred delivery methods. Now more than ever, buyer behavior is driving the current cannabis market.

PRODUCT CHANGES RELATED TO BUYER BEHAVIOR

Cannabis products such as atomizers, patches, tinctures are replacing inhaled, respiratory- related products. As a result, vape cartridges are waning in sales

On the other hand, concentrates are selling at a higher volume than ever. Why? Consumers can use concentrated cannabis for everything— from cooking edibles to creating topicals to making capsules.

Since the pandemic social distancing requirements, consumers don’t want to share a pre-roll with friends anymore. On March 18, 2020, Rolling Stone published Stop Passing That Joint, Top Marijuana Reform Group Says Amid Coronavirus to make medical and adult-use cannabis consumers alike aware of the dangers of sharing with others. 

The cannabis industry quickly adapted, however, offering pre-rolls in prepackaged, individual sizes. As Alicia Wallace reported in CNN Business, Smaller joints and less-potent buds: recession weed is here.

PATIENT INTERFACE CHANGES RELATED TO BUYER BEHAVIOR

Many states have carefully reviewed current cannabis rules and regulations, opting to implement telehealth measures to serve the medically vulnerable patients who do not feel comfortable leaving their homes or entering storefronts at this uncertain times.

Some states have enacted policies that would extend the expiration date of medical cannabis registrations. Still other cannabis-legal states have allowed consumers to purchase more products at once to reduce the number of necessary store visits.

As for physical cannabis dispensary storefront interactions, companies are doing their part to help patients and consumers. On April 9, 2020, DocMJ published a comprehensive list of steps Florida dispensaries are taking to ensure consumer access and safety.

If an in-store visit is required, dispensaries have taken a number of significant actions, such as designating shopping hours for medically vulnerable or immuno-compromised consumers like me to shop in a more safe and healthy environment. 

Dispensaries are also limiting the number of occupants in the building, and clearly defining social distancing spaces. PPE is offered to consumers in need of face covering and hand sanitizer is provided, per CDC guidelines. 

Vital communication with consumers, the public, and their own employees has drastically improved for all parties. Cannabis companies are using social platforms, direct emails and message notifications throughout the order process to ensure uninterrupted service.

Also available at cannabis giant Trulieve is online check-in for pickup orders so that patients can avoid unnecessary time spent in the physical store locations. 

In the midst of this 2020 crisis, the cannabis industry has excelled in innovation and effectively transitioned to mainly online and contactless transaction businesses. These examples also serve to highlight how the industry has worked in a timely manner during the pandemic to position cannabis as an essential, adaptable, and innovative industry.

CANNABIS INDUSTRY STRATEGIES RELATED TO BUYER BEHAVIOR

On April 19, 2020, John Hudak published Essential’ Cannabis Businesses: Strategies for Regulation in a Time of Widespread Crisis for Brookings, in which he highlights “essential cannabisas a whole:

“The current pandemic and the associated economic recession are historic by any metric, and that makes planning very difficult. However, this moment also presents an opportunity to begin broad, detailed, strategic planning for the industry ahead of future public health, economic, or other crises. Economic recessions happen and industries face rocky periods, sometimes at no fault of their own.

The cannabis industry will need help again down the road. Now is the time for states to think about how they will support this unique industry—one that they have benefited from, and have allowed to exist and flourish while straddling legality.”

Speaking as a patient, I believe that states across the country should pause, reevaluate cannabis programs and take a revolutionary page from the cannabis industry’s pandemic instruction manual: build a better, sturdier box.

The cannabis industry made drastic, beneficial changes that it wants to be made permanent. Kristine Owram reported as much in her May 10, 2020 Bloomberg News article: Dispensaries Want Perpetual Pandemic Provisions.

States must now review and contemplate making some of these changes permanent at a regulatory level in order to continue the same level of patient access and safety that the cannabis industry has so efficiently delivered during the COVID-19 crisis. In his Brookings article, Hudak continues:

Most states have been improvising instead of relying on well-founded strategies for cannabis regulation in a time of widespread crisis. That does not serve as a criticism of cannabis regulators. In many areas of policy, federal, state, and local officials were underprepared, and for many of them, decision making happened ‘on the fly.’

However, these government decisions have had and will have significant impacts on the cannabis industry and its consumer base… officials are taking different approaches depending on the question, the state, and the part of the industry that is involved.”

For now, each state in which medical cannabis is legal has passed some form of emergency orders or guidelines that guarantee continued access to safe medical cannabis for patients and consumers during the pandemic.

Moving forward, however, cannabis remaining an essential business is crucial to serving medical patients and the majority of adult-use consumers who rely on cannabis for their relief and for their health.

Continued access to cannabis through medical and adult use programs is beyond essential; it is vital to ensuring all consumers continue to obtain cannabis legally and safely.