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In early-to mid-March, when things were just starting to get weird, people began stocking up on the essentials: toilet paper, hand soap … and, for some, industrial quantities of weed. In light of the pandemic’s uncertainty, and the looming threat of long-term lockdowns, building up an at-home cache suddenly felt like an urgent project.
On March 12, Philadelphia-based podcaster and writer Sarah Marshall tweeted about her stockpiling plans: “Not, I think, because I really believe there will be a scarcity, but because when times are scary you hoard something you love, which maybe is how some people feel about toilet paper???”
A lot of us followed suit. “I went Sicko mode and bought a half ounce, which is double the amount I usually buy,” Atlanta-based audio engineer and video editor Michael Saba says. “My regular routine is to buy a quarter [of an ounce] at a time, which can last me up to a month if I ration it out.”
New York-based weed and sex writer (and Volume 2 Dope Girls contributor) Sophie Saint Thomas took a similar approach. “I got about two months’ worth of 10mg oral tablets and a few vape cartridges,” she says. “I went for the options that are most discreet, so I don't bother other people in my building with weed smoke.”
According to J, another New York City denizen who prefers to stay anonymous, “My dealer actually emailed me to make sure I was stocked up! ... [W]e usually meet up near his office, so he was looking out for me.”
For some, the hoarding was kicked off by worries about how long the pandemic would last, and concern about access. For others, it was motivated by the world’s increasingly dystopian feel.
“It's hard to pinpoint exactly why and when I made the conscious decision to Go Prepper,” says Saba. “But like Jeff Goldblum in ‘The Fly,’ I am acutely aware of the transformation that is coming over me as I internalize the zero-sum death-logic of permanent competition. Whether we admit it or not, very few of us believe anymore that we live in a functioning state. People don't think anyone is looking out for them, or that help is coming anytime soon, so we're hoarding resources.”
Whatever the motivation, while preparing for an indefinite hiatus of being trapped at home, we stoners stocked up on flower and/or followed the plug’s (creative) word as gospel. In line with the milk-and-bread approach that is the emergency drill norm in my home of Atlanta, Georgia, I followed a similar prep technique: since losing my connect in this fervently not-legal city, I reached out to a close friend in the area and dropped all the cash I could find with his plug for all the Blue Dream he could spare. So far, so good … kinda.
CREEKS RISING Truly, no one recognizes the sanctity of staying home like stoners. We … started this? Didn’t we? It’s a long-beloved trope that potheads get high and don’t go anywhere. Anecdotally, many, if not most, people who have smoked weed can attest to the fact that those who blaze up are way more likely to stay put. A study cited in a 2016 VICE article attests to the universal truth that, if you’re currently high, you probably would prefer not to move for a while. Indica-dominant strains are similarly (if erroneously) famous for inciting drowsiness—the phrase goes, “In da couch,” so you remember.
That’s especially true now. Think about it: we’re home. We’re bored, scared, listless, etc. What goes better with these feelings than weed?
But if the routines of quarantine feel familiar, our ingestion methods (smoking vs. edibles vs. tinctures vs. etc.) might not. Sure, we should in general avoid passing a joint and/or anything else that goes from human mouth to human mouth—we know that much. But given the coronavirus’ often-severe pulmonary symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that smoking anything, tobacco or otherwise, be avoided if at all possible. Data that cannabis industry analytics service Headset unearthed also shows that cannabis consumers are more actively considering their respiratory health, which is affecting buying behaviors.
“Whether we admit it or not, very few of us believe anymore that we live in a functioning state. People don’t think anyone is looking out for them, or that help is coming anytime soon, so we’re hoarding resources.”
— Michael Saba, audio engineer Weed delivery giant Eaze shared in a press release a 27.6% increase in edibles sales through the platform between March 13 and April 13, 2020 (the company defines this date range as “post-COVID-19”), as compared to figures between October 1, 2019 and March 12, 2020 (“pre-COVID-19”). Conversely, flower sales dropped by 13.4%.
“I've definitely been leaning more towards edibles than usual,” Ally—an L.A.-based maker who prefers not to share her last name—says. “I've been consuming weed pretty much every day in some capacity. I get very anxious, especially at night, and it's the only thing that actually helps. The stock I bought in March has lasted me, and I still have quite a bit left.”
Saint Thomas says she’s also backed off jays, blunts, bowls, and the like, opting instead for non-smoking options. “I do have a little bit of green that I'm saving for something special, but the next few months look like they will be capsule-heavy,” she says.
COVID-19 aside, the interest in non-smoking ingestion methods has always been there for folks living with asthma and other breathing-related challenges. “The problem is that I have asthma and I'm not in as great of shape now that I'm not wrestling like I was in The Before Times,” Katarina "theDommeKat" Pierce—a proDomme, fetish wrestler and former daily weed smoker—says. “I was training a few times a week. I lifted weights. Now, I barely do anything. I figured I need to mitigate the damage to my lungs if I get sick.”
But not all tokers are giving up their routines. Sara David, another writer in New York, says she’s scaled back on cigarettes in favor of spliffs (joints rolled with loose tobacco). “Honestly I’m not navigating my overarching desire to smoke less very well,” David says. “I‘ve definitely dramatically increased my weed smoking since I’m not going out with my friends and weed is my go-to over alcohol for Zoom happy hours.”
EDIBLES ARRANGEMENTS In the meantime, small businesses that focus on non-flower products have seen a spike in interest. Former “Bong Appetit” host and Marigold Sweets proprietor Vanessa Lavorato tripled her patron count within two months on her Patreon account, where she teaches newbies how to cook dinner staples like marinara sauce and special treats like maple butter toffee—but with cannabis. Chef Jean, owner of Atlanta-based edibles company Viva La Verde, says the week before April 20—Christmas for the stoner community—was particularly busy, and that it will take weeks to clear through her backlog of orders. “[T]here's just too many people that need stuff from me. I don't really know where they're all coming from. Where have they been?”
With the pandemic affecting booze-buying habits in the United States, it’s clear Americans also want liquid assistance through this sometimes-boring, often-scary time. And many cannabis companies see that, offering non-alcoholic options to slosh around in isolation—a welcome alternative for folks avoiding alcohol as well as consumers who just want to mix it up, hangovers aside. As such, new products like the 0-calorie, 0-ABV, THC-infused beverage PHYX are enjoying their time in the sun as a substitute for both hooch as well as traditional cannabis inhalation. Although more conventional edibles can take hours for the digestive system to absorb, these weed beverages—like smoking—yield instant results, and last only about an hour.
Similarly, booze-free, cannabis-infused wine producer Rebel Coast’s CEO and co-founder Josh Lizotte says the company is thriving this spring. “April was one of our biggest months for some reason, then May kicked off,” Lizotte tells GBH, adding that May was the second-biggest month in brand history. “It ramped up so quickly that we actually ran out of stock.” He also mentions that Rebel is poised to roll out some new offerings, including seltzer and sparkling wine in single-serving sizes, in addition to the “10 or 12 other beverages in development right now, too.”
Of course, a range of edibles purveyors exist, like wellness-focused cannabis brand KIKOKO (which produces cannabis-infused teas as well as mints, tinctures, and manuka and kanuka “honeyshots”) and vegan, gluten-free Turkish delights brand Rose Delights—and they have seen serious paydays.
“I‘ve definitely dramatically increased my weed smoking since I’m not going out with my friends and weed is my go-to over alcohol for Zoom happy hours.”
— Sara David, writer Rose’s founding partners Nathan Cozzolino and Daryl Moseley tell GBH that quarantine helped them find time to keep up with production. “Farmers were still working and able to provide us the produce we needed to scale our production,” Cozzolino says. “[S]ince the ‘human race’ was coming to a screeching halt, people were allowing themselves the luxury of getting high throughout the day. […] Our product is by no means a health and wellness product, but it is a pleasure and real food product, and the world around us seemed to be prioritizing these two pieces of their everyday lives.”
Moseley shares that Rose saw a 20% jump in sales in both April and May. “We certainly leverage our ability to stay nimble as an early-stage company during uncertain times but our outlook on the rest of the year remains positive despite these challenging times,” he adds.
KIKOKO’s sales have flourished, too, enjoying popularity among what co-CEO Amanda Jones calls both “the stoner end” and “the wellness end,” since the company offers products ranging from just 1mg of THC up to 10mg. Jones pointed specifically to KIKOKO’s low-THC mints—which purport to vary in effect, like “calm,” “focus,” and “sleep”—selling well. “The mommies are home and they're homeschooling, or they're stuck in an apartment with kids, or just at home with three children,” she says. “People can just pop a mint and it doesn’t impair you—you’re able to stay present [… and] cope with the kids or make lunch for the family and feel a little bit better about it, a little bit easier.”
Jones adds that the organic, wellness aspect the brand embraces has likely contributed to its success against the backdrop of the pandemic. “For example, instead of taking a 10-milligram sugary gummy,” she says, “people are saying, ‘Well, I could take this Manuka honeyshot—and Manuka honey is antibacterial and Kanuka honey is antiviral. [This way,] I'm going to be doing something good to my body. Maybe it will help my immune system.’ So people are recognizing that.”
As more and more green cannabis users approach the herb, easy-entry options—like swapping their go-to glass of Malbec with a PHYX mocktail or a handful of Twizzlers with a rose-hibiscus Turkish delight—are king. But for tried-and-true stoners who don’t want to give up or diversify their toking tendencies, new products that claim to boost hygiene are also entering the market.
Jay Rush, Moose Labs’ co-founder, worked to develop a product, the MouthPeace, that allows smoking more safely. “Think of it like a condom for your bong,” the press release reads. “The CDC does recommend not smoking and favors other consumption methods,” Rush cautions. “That said, many people don't find those methods effective and many others simply enjoy the smoke. MouthPeace Filter makes it easier and cleaner for those people to consume and not have to sacrifice their preferred consumption method.”
ESSENTIAL HERBS On April 10, the New York Times reported that many states are classifying cannabis as an “essential” item, in line with other products such as toilet paper, milk, and alcohol. Maybe it’s no wonder that dispensaries and collectives have scrambled to get licensed for curbside pickups, according to online cannabis retailer and resource Leafly. Marijuana Business Daily found Washington State and California saw weed sales soar, with Washington seeing its most profitable month yet in April 2020. Oregon also raked in $89 million in cannabis sales in April 2020, a 45% jump from April 2019.
Beyond curbside pickup, businesses across the spectrum have found various ways to adapt. “I have gone cashless,” Chef Jean says. “Wearing gloves and washing my hands constantly isn't something that is new to me. As a chef I have learned to be super strict with sanitation so it hasn't been hard to work clean. I have limited contact with my customers and am doing porch drop-offs only, as well.”
Dispensaries and collectives have hustled to push forward alternative procurement methods to match demand. The Mission location of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast closed its on-site smoking area following the mayor’s aggressive shut-down measures, but continues to offer in-shop sales and some deliveries in the San Francisco area. As early as March 12, Oklahoma City collective Likewise issued an ordinance to purchase only through curbside pickup or via strict caps on number of visitors allowed inside at once. Plenty of other dispensaries—like Denver’s Mile High Green Cross—have pursued similar measures, including necessitating pickup-only orders, with proceedings monitored by security guards.
“April was one of our biggest months for some reason, then May kicked off. It ramped up so quickly that we actually ran out of stock.”
— Josh Lizotte, Rebel Coast However, the same MJ Biz report found that, although many states have experienced weed sales booms, the impact has varied by state. MarketWatch also reported uneven stock values throughout the cannabis industry, varying by company, despite an overall swell in demand and the herb’s widespread classification as an essential item. The jury remains out on a consensus and likely will continue to do so “until you treat cannabis and regulate cannabis like every other business is regulated in the United States today,” cannabis investor Steve DeAngelo told Politico.
BEYOND DISPENSARIES Amidst sales booms, many dispensaries are also turning towards charitable causes and doing their best to serve disadvantaged communities. Carpinteria, California’s Glass House Farms makes philanthropic efforts to support healthcare workers, and some other dispensaries, like Bud and Bloom and Lady Jane’s Naturals, have introduced senior-only shopping periods. Plenty more cannabis companies have worked to create and distribute hand sanitizer.
These are certainly admirable efforts, but the big push to defend the incarcerated populations who never agreed to “pave the way” for legalization has yet to become standard. Considering that at least 2.3 million fellow Americans currently live behind bars—many for non-violent, cannabis-related causes—it feels tone-deaf to celebrate the surge in demand, sales, and new products without acknowledging that imbalance, especially as soaring numbers of inmates are testing positive for COVID-19.
To be able to afford legal cannabis during a pandemic is an enormous privilege. As such, on a micro level, plenty of stoners anecdotally encourage their peers to contribute to incarceration funds, like Black Mama’s Bail Outs, a Black-led organization working to fund bail for Black prisoners, many of whom have been put behind bars on cannabis-related charges.
There’s a lot to consider when approaching ethical cannabis consumption, and to get too deep in the weeds can be overwhelming. But actively donating to bailout funds is an important place to begin. Consider floating a little of that money you’d spend on an extra gram of flower to an organization fighting to free people imprisoned on non-violent, cannabis-related crimes, like Freedom Grow or a more catch-all nonprofit like National Bailout. From there, pop an edible, take a seat, and zone out. You got this. We got this.
Words, Beca Grimm
Illustrations, Lan Truong