Covid and Cannabis. An update

In the midst of the Covid-19 epidemic, nearly every sector of business has undergone significant change in their operations and the medical marijuana industry in Maine is no exception. Despite medicinal cannabis being considered an essential business and seeing no decline in sales, patients are reporting new issues introduced by the change in operations.

With regulations regarding social distancing and facial coverings, restrictions on the amount of people allowed inside simultaneously, and the inability to have sample products be displayed, most medical providers have shifted to online-orders paired with curbside pickup, meaning that each patient has no interaction with the products they are purchasing prior to returning home with them.

This is a stark change for many patients, who are used to being able to see and smell their medicinal cannabis prior to buying it. In addition, there is much less, if any, time allotted for patients to ask questions regarding their purchases. For the less experienced cannabis user, the time spent with a knowledgeable budtender can be significant. With the entire interaction now consisting of being handed a bag through one’s car window, many patients are faced with challenges when trying to find a product that works for them.

With many storefronts typically offering products from a variety of cultivators, in addition to the fact that each harvest can be vastly different from a grower’s previous run, the information available on an online menu is rarely enough to make an educated decision on whether that particular product will provide the desired benefits. This has led to a rise in occasions of patients returning home only to find that what they ordered is very different than expected. For some, this can be little more than annoyance, but for those with restrictions or limitations on what they can consume, this can result in large amounts of medicine being completely unusable and often unreturnable, especially now under the new guidelines.

This creates problems for all parties, as not only does that particular customer lose out, the shop takes a hit in their decreased likelihood of repeat business and positive recommendations from that point on. Furthermore, there’s a chance that someone who could have benefited from that product potentially was then unable to get what they needed.

This situation is also worsened by the diminishing number of cannabis products available and the speed in which products are out of stock. In terms of marijuana, Maine is subject to a so-called drought. This is not a new phenomenon: many of the past year, when many cultivators transfer from growing indoors to outdoors in the spring and early summer seasons, there is a short-lived, general decline in the amount of legal marijuana available around the state.

What is occurring now is unlike previous years; while it was not brought upon by Covid, it has certainly been worsened by the epidemic. While the plants themselves are not affected, those growing them are; less people working less hours has a long-lasting impact on the timing of the harvests and when it will be ready to be available for purchase. This results in shops who typically carry several different cultivators and a sizable amount of strains having only one or two available at a time, with select products selling out within hours of arriving.

Efforts are being made to combat this, such as some shops setting purchasing limits in an attempt to make it so more patients can get a hold of products, but the overall decline in legal marijuana has also led to widespread price increases, which in turn also plays a role in what is available to patients. With there being much less product available, growers can subsequently charge more for their crops, which then translates into medical providers raising prices to combat the difference. While few would argue that the growers are undeserving of a larger paycheck, especially considering their daily commitment during such a strange and challenging time for society in general, the reality is that an increase in prices does play a role in limiting the amount of products available for some patients.

The situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, considering the recent spikes in Covid infection rates nationwide and lawmakers at all levels discussing long term implications well beyond a harvest cycle or two. Despite, or perhaps in part due to, some storefronts failing to enact some or any safety precautions, the reality is that the current conditions are more or less the new norm, and should be expected going forward.

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