The new coronavirus appeared and began causing devastation around the world with such haste that most individuals have not had time to catch their breath — if you can pardon the metaphor.
Businesses, too, are struggling to survive in a climate of fear and discomfort, and many are suffering significant setbacks that might result in widespread, long-term economic fallout if not properly addressed by the government.
However, not all industries are flailing. In many parts of the country, cannabis dispensaries are noticing a remarkable shift in public attitude as well as a much-needed boost to sales. In Colorado, especially, coronavirus has brought sweeping changes to the policy, which could ultimately save the industry in the state.
Colorado Cannabis Was Suffering a Slump
As one of the first two states to legalize adult-use cannabis, Colorado’s marijuana industry exploded onto the scene in 2014, attracting a huge audience of consumers eager to indulge in the novelty of legal weed. Dispensaries enjoyed booming sales, and Colorado even developed as a prime destination for marijuana tourism, drawing a significant number of dispensary customers from out of state.
Yet, that boom didn’t last. Over the past few years, that initial explosion of interest in the marijuana industry has waned. Experts have suggested a few reasons for this decline in popularity, such as the increase in adult-use legalization across the country cutting into the state’s marijuana tourism and a general lack of novelty surrounding legal weed. Largely, experts believed that Colorado’s market was stabilizing, finding a normal audience size that Colorado dispensaries can sustain. However, because Colorado is among the first states to undergo this process, neither lawmakers nor industry experts truly understand the causes or future of the slump — how far sales will fall, whether there is any way to counteract declining interest, etc. Then, the new coronavirus made its appearance.
COVID-19 Made Cannabis Essential
In the early weeks of the pandemic, lawmakers hustled to divide businesses into two categories: essential and non-essential. Non-essential businesses were compelled to close for the duration of stay-at-home and social-distancing orders, or else they were mandated to reduce their workforce, restrict operation hours and make other significant changes to lower the risk of spreading the disease. Meanwhile, essential businesses were deemed vital to the health and wellness of Colorado’s population; they include industries like energy, healthcare, agriculture and food distribution — and marijuana.
Marijuana dispensaries were designated essential for a few key reasons. First, most medical marijuana patients rely heavily on cannabis for their health, and depriving them of their treatment would be akin to depriving someone of blood pressure medication or insulin. Because regular pharmacies are essential businesses, medical marijuana dispensaries have been granted similar status.
Adult-use, recreational dispensaries are another matter. Initially, many cities in Colorado, including Denver, determined that both liquor shops and adult-use dispensaries would be non-essential, considering that neither alcohol nor recreational weed keeps people alive or healthy. Yet, when Coloradans rushed these locations in a panicked frenzy, hoping to stock up as much as possible before the retail stores closed, Colorado reversed its decision, making both booze and pot essential.
Fortunately for the Colorado cannabis industry, COVID-19 has driven up Coloradans’ interest in using marijuana. Alcohol and weed tend to serve a similar purpose in people’s lives, especially during isolation: They relax, and they entertain. Keeping recreational dispensaries open during this time is a good way to keep people safe indoors because they have a fun and stress-relieving substance to rely on. Because people have the time and interest in indulging in weed, dispensary sales are on the rise — for the first time in about a year.
Lobbyists Are Loosening Rigid Regulations
Colorado was a trailblazer in legalizing adult-use marijuana in 2012 and making the drug widely available in 2014, but being among the first states to do so all but ensured that it would make some mistakes in regulation. In particular, the state was initially exceedingly harsh with who could open marijuana dispensaries, where dispensaries could be located and how customers could make marijuana purchases. According to Amendment 64, all cannabis sales must take place on dispensary property — which compels people to venture out of their homes and interact with others in confined spaces, potentially spreading COVID-19.
Thankfully, Colorado lawmakers are beginning to listen to lobbyists who want to loosen those rigid regulations. Primarily, lobbyists are focusing their efforts on making it easier for consumers to gain access to the drug without leaving their homes and putting themselves in harm’s way: online purchasing and home delivery. If regulators see fit to permit these changes to Colorado’s marijuana law, it could make weed even more enticing to Coloradans and allow for another boost to the once-flagging industry.
Without a doubt, if we could wave a magic wand and undo all the damage caused by COVID-19, we would, but it is important to look for the silver linings in any crisis. In Colorado, the silver lining could be green and sticky — the survival of Colorado’s cannabis industry for years to come.