Many states are lifting coronavirus restrictions, signaling new opportunities and challenges for the industry, if not a complete return to “normal.”
In Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that salons, barbershops and spas could reopen on Friday, April 24, the same day he permitted elective surgeries to resume.
As Oklahoma’s economy opens back up, dispensary Likewise Cannabis has seen more patients coming inside its stores instead of utilizing curbside pickup and drive-thru services, said Corbin Wyatt, CEO. This follows the governor’s announcement of a “safer-at-home order” for “vulnerable populations” on March 24.
Likewise Cannabis runs five retail locations—two in Oklahoma City, one in Edmond, one in McAlester and one in Stillwater. The business plans to open a third location in Oklahoma City and also aims to vertically integrate to add cultivation and processing, Wyatt said.
“We're back to stocking vapes more as sales have been rising on those significantly in the past few days,” Wyatt said on May 4. “Flower is seeing an uptick as well, edibles are down a few percentage points. I think people are beginning to rotate back to their usual regime.”
Likewise saw edibles purchases increase from about 20 to 25% of monthly sales prior to the state’s coronavirus pandemic response to about 35% during the first roughly five weeks of the safer-at-home order, Wyatt said April 30.
“When the CDC said to avoid inhaling things like tobacco and cannabis products, we saw a huge rise in the number of people that were using edibles, and then tinctures and topicals and capsules have also kind of followed in becoming more popular as well,” Wyatt said.
The number of transactions at Likewise had decreased during the first several weeks of the pandemic, as patients who previously came into the dispensaries roughly every three to four days began frequenting them about every seven to nine days.
When asked if the dispensaries have begun to provide more public-health education to patients who may be traveling more from place to place during the pandemic, Wyatt said it’s important to trust those patients.
“But at the same time, the gravity of the situation with coronavirus is such that it is in our wheelhouse to need to talk to them a little bit more about how they can stay safe and they can help their fellow patients stay safe, especially because we do have so many patients that come in that are in that highly at-risk group,” Wyatt said. “They're current or former cancer patients. They have asthma or some sort of an issue with their lungs.”
Wyatt said his business is taking a fluid approach to inventory because Oklahoma’s economy is suffering due to fluctuations in the oil and gas market, a major purveyor of jobs and revenue in the state.
“We're going to stay cautious in regards to just the overall economic impact of COVID, both nationally and locally, but that's going to be where we determine how much inventory backstock we need to be carrying,” he said.
Insights from Ohio
For one Ohio cultivator, the coronavirus hasn’t negatively affected operations to a great extent.
Leslie Brandon, communications director of Eastlake, Ohio-based Buckeye Relief, says the medical cultivator and processor hired five new team members in March and April and is still hiring.
Changes in the supply chain haven’t hit Buckeye Relief particularly hard, either, Brandon said in an email. “For the most part we’ve been lucky and unaffected, aside from some delays in February and March from packaging that is manufactured overseas,” she said. “We’ve been able to keep up our production levels to meet customer demand.”
Brandon credits Ohio state officials’ decision to allow for telemedicine, “call-in and online dispensary orders” and curbside pickup as reasons why Ohio patients have been able to “feel safe” during the pandemic.
Through it all, Buckeye Relief’s transportation team has provided dispensaries with essential product. “The team has done an amazing job of keeping up with our delivery schedule,” Brandon said. “In the last six weeks we hit two new records for number of weekly deliveries, and our average of weekly deliveries is up overall."
Updated 5/19 10:45 a.m.: This article was updated to correct a location. Buckeye Relief is based in Eastlake, Ohio, not Westlake.