2020 | Coronavirus

Medical cannabis sales spiked during first few weeks of COVID-19 outbreak

Shops say people bought in bulk out of fear

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The average amount spent by a customer at Health for Life in Bethesda went from $95 to $130 last month during the coronavirus pandemic, a store representative said.

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Medical cannabis sales at Montgomery County dispensaries and an apothecary rose rapidly last month during the first few weeks of the coronavirus disease pandemic, according to area shops.

The increase in demand, they say, started around the time Gov. Larry Hogan began issuing orders to limit crowd sizes and close businesses deemed non-essential.

At Health for Life in Bethesda, customers typically spent an average of $95 per visit, said Janine Ratliff, a spokeswoman for the store’s parent company, iAnthus Holdings. By the end of last month, Ratliff said, the average amount spent by a customer in one trip had jumped to $130.

“That’s a pretty big increase just over the month,” she said.

After Hogan ordered that non-essential businesses close, Ratliff said, chaos ensued at all three Health for Life stores in Maryland — Bethesda, Baltimore and White Marsh — because customers weren’t sure if dispensaries would be considered essential.

“As soon as that announcement went out, I was in the dispensaries and there was a mad rush. People were willing to wait an hour to an hour and a half. People were willing to wait it just out of fear that we might be closing,” she said.

The chaos eventually died down, Ratliff said, after they received assurance from the state’s Medical Cannabis Commission that dispensaries, growers and processers were considered essential. However, businesses must ensure customers and employees practice social distancing and try to limit exposure by encouraging customers to make purchases through curbside pickup and delivery.

People are still buying in bulk, Ratliff said, because they want to avoid going out as much as possible.

“People don’t want to visit us every day. They want to make huge purchases, so they don’t have to leave their home,” she said.

Jeremy Unruh, a spokesman for Verilife Marijuana Dispensaries, a national chain of dispensaries, wrote in an email last week that there was an initial surge in demand at stores across the country during the first few weeks of the pandemic. He attributes that to various stay-at-home orders that were imposed.

Shelley Stormo, the district manager for Verilife’s Rockville store, said sales at that location increased throughout March and the average amount spent per customer has gone up $20 since the pandemic began.

Stormo said demand has also increased for wholesale products from Verilife’s vendors. The store has increased the number of orders, so it doesn’t run low on inventory the way some dispensaries have during the pandemic, she said.
Flower is the most popular item people are buying, she said.

At the Rockville dispensary Harvest HOC, sales volume started to increase around March 13, company spokesman Alex Howe wrote in an email.

“Many of our patients bought the maximum amount allotted under state law. Popular products and strains were often the first purchases patients made,” he wrote.

Howe wrote that as products were restocked, the initial surge began to level off.

At Village Green Apothecary in Bethesda, owner Marc Isaacson said the shop is seeing increased demand for products helpful to people’s immune system, including cannabidiol (CBD).

“Across the board, including CBD, there is a huge amount of ongoing interest in this area. It’s almost like the rush for people to get food,” he said. “They’re buying more [products] because people are concerned about availability and they’re confined to their house.”
Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com