For the first time in American history, several states declared that cannabis businesses are “essential businesses” to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic. While details and requirements differ from state to state, in general, recognizing that cannabis medicine is essential to people’s health is a game-changer for the entire cannabis community. If it wasn’t for the horrific reality that led to the declaration, this would be cause for celebration.
On March 4, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, and on March 15, he issued an order closing bars and nightclubs. Restaurants could only provide takeout and delivery services, and senior adults were encouraged to self-isolate at home. On March 19, the Governor issued the stricter “shelter at home” declaration shutting down all but essential businesses. Cannabis organizations and businesses quickly lobbied the government, and late Friday evening, March 20, Governor Newsom declared that the regulated cannabis supply chains are as essential as “hospitals and other medical facilities.” Unlike the state of Massachusetts, the declaration did not differentiate between medical and adult-use cannabis businesses. California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control then issued workplace guidelines that correspond to those issued by the Centers for Disease Control. Almost overnight, cannabis dispensaries needed to implement:
- Updated cleaning and disinfection guidance.
- Updated best practices for conducting social distancing.
- Updated strategies and recommendations that can be implemented now to respond to COVID-19.
Social Distancing in Cannabis Dispensaries
Change is hard, but nearly everyone in the cannabis business is accustomed to pivoting when regulations and practices change. But dealing with COVID-19 requirements is unlike any regulatory or compliance snafu before as lives are on the line. Dispensary owners, managers, and staff quickly learned the importance of new standardized procedures for COVID-19.
For a ground-level view, we spoke with Justin Sonye, General Manager, and Alysia Gadson, Asst. General Manager of Kannabis Works, a community-oriented dispensary in Santa Ana, California. The dispensary took up the challenge to adapt, keep the doors open, and serve their patients. But prior to the March 20 order to keep dispensaries open, patients thought their access to cannabis might be curtailed. Justin said that “On March 13 we had our best sales day ever.” This was due in large part to panic buying as patients didn’t know when the next time they were going to be able to get their essential medicine.”
The Kannabis Works staff quickly set up orange cones marked off with tape to create social distancing markers between the patients and the budtenders taking their orders. Justin explained that “it was mixed as far as the response. Some people, including a share of our older patients, felt it was an overreaction. The staff also started wearing gloves and surgical masks and implemented work area cleaning procedures using spray bottles containing alcohol solutions. “We had surgical masks just sitting there all boxed up and ready to go, so that was just kind of a fortuitous for us,” Justin said. Around March 17, Kannabis Works set up its online ordering system provided by dutchie.com, pivoted to order pickup only, and completely stopped patient access to the dispensary floor. “Honestly, within 24 hours we had an online ordering in place,” Justin said.
Cannabis Dispensary Curbside Pickup
Pivoting to pickup services changed the order fulfillment process as well. Alysia explained that “If you walked into our shop right now, you would still say it’s very clean and nice, but it is very clearly a fulfillment center now. A lot of the stock that used to be on shelves or under counters, we’re now using plastic bins so we can pick and pack customer orders with high efficiency.”
No longer permitted in the dispensary itself, patients need to place their orders online or by phone. “When you come up to the door we check you in as usual, except we do it right at the front door,” Alysia said. “Your phone or online order is ready to go, and we read it back to you to confirm it. And then, one staff member retrieves the order and you’re quickly on your way.” She added that “For our seniors, we’re actually doing carhop service and we will run their order out to their car in our parking area.”
Kannabis Works is a community-oriented dispensary and educating patients is part of their core, especially for senior adults. Accordingly, Alysia said that they will absolutely accommodate patients’ questions. They can utilize online video meetings to explore options and the staff will personally fill an order for them and have it ready for pickup. “If they need advice, we’re still here to be an information resource,” Alysia said. “If they arrive with questions, one of our staff will go outside and safely stand with them in the shade of our tents and answer all their questions.”
Delivery Ramps Up with BLAZE
To take customer service to the next level, delivery is a needed element. Justin said that “We are actively working on delivery. They have to be our employees but we’re working with an independent, outside company that has delivery experience which is a good thing. They’ve been really helpful and are able to integrate with our BLAZE platform.” Justin explained that “The reason we went with BLAZE is that they were so ready to work with us and they were always open to integrating with other software. The fact that they have been working with us so well on our delivery integration has been great, and they’re a good team. They don’t say no when it comes to things like integrating software. They always say, ‘we’ll try it.’”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is changing customer purchasing habits and in hard-hit urban areas, many changes will likely stay in place for the foreseeable future. As always, dispensaries must remain flexible, and without a doubt, software from BLAZE is a crucial part of any cannabis business. They need the ability to track and fulfill online orders even more efficiently than in the past while customers are waiting curbside or expecting a delivery,” says Chris Violas, CEO of BLAZE.
Designating cannabis as essential medicine helps further normalize cannabis to naysayers and prohibitionists alike. Hopefully, this is one silver lining resulting from the pandemic, and BLAZE is here to support our customers and our community during these turbulent times. Please let us know how we may help you adapt to our new shared reality.