Buzz kill: Pot shops re­open with fears of a new shut­down

Orlando Sentinel - - Business - By Philip Marcelo

BOSTON — Mar­i­juana shops in many states have en­joyed brisk busi­ness dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. In New Eng­land? Not so much.

Recre­ational shops re­opened this week in Mas­sachusetts with strict reg­u­la­tions af­ter be­ing or­dered shut for the past two months.

Now, some worry that state of­fi­cials could sim­ply shut­ter them again if there’s a resur­gence of the virus. Mas­sachusetts is the only state that has deemed the shops “nonessen­tial” dur­ing the pan­demic.

“We took an enor­mous hit these last two months. Our stores saw an 85% to 90% re­duc­tion in sales. We re­ally had to scrape by,” said Amanda Rosi­tano, pres­i­dent of New Eng­land Treat­ment Ac­cess, which op­er­ates two mar­i­juana shops serv­ing both recre­ational and med­i­cal mar­i­juana cus­tomers.

A group of shops un­suc­cess­fully sued Repub­li­can Gov. Char­lie Baker last month, ar­gu­ing it was ar­bi­trary to or­der them closed while liquor stores and med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries re­mained open as “es­sen­tial” busi­nesses.

Baker’s of­fice, which didn’t com­ment this week on the in­dus­try’s con­cerns, has pre­vi­ously said Mas­sachusetts’ re­tail shops — the only ones op­er­at­ing on the East coast — could draw peo­ple from out of state and fur­ther spread the virus.

In Maine, where vot­ers ap­proved recre­ational sales in 2016, of­fi­cials were aim­ing to open the state’s first re­tail shops this spring, but that process has been de­layed in­def­i­nitely be­cause of the pan­demic, said David Hei­drich, spokesman for the state’s Of­fice of Mar­i­juana Pol­icy.

Mar­i­juana busi­nesses now hope the first wave of recre­ational shops can open in the fall af­ter years of de­lays, said Char­lie Langston, man­ag­ing direc­tor at the Well­ness Con­nec­tion, which has ap­plied to add recre­ational sales to its four med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries.

“We’re used to un­cer­tainty here in Maine, at least when it comes to adult-use mar­i­juana,” Langston said. “It’s kind of a bit­ter irony. Af­ter steady progress last year, we’re now back to ‘uh-oh’ again.”

In states where recre­ational mar­i­juana op­er­a­tions re­main open, the pan­demic has been a mixed bag, said Mor­gan Fox, spokesman for the Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based Na­tional Cannabis In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion.

Mar­i­juana op­er­a­tors gen­er­ally en­joyed a sales boost as cus­tomers stocked up in the ini­tial days of the pan­demic in March, and then again around April 20, the mar­i­juana hol­i­day known as 420, he said.

Many are see­ing sales pick up now as peo­ple in­creas­ingly turn to cannabis to help cope with new so­cial and eco­nomic re­al­i­ties, Fox said.

“Over­all sales seem to be up, but I wouldn’t say it’s been a bo­nanza,” said Fox, not­ing that mar­i­juana com­pa­nies don’t ben­e­fit from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s $2 tril­lion pan­demic re­lief bill and other ef­forts be­cause cannabis re­mains the fed­eral level.

In­deed, April mar­i­juana sales in Wash­ing­ton state, Ore­gon and Cal­i­for­nia all sur­passed last April’s fig­ures, but April sales in Ne­vada and Colorado were down sig­nif­i­cantly com­pared to the prior April, largely be­cause tourism has dropped off, ac­cord­ing to Eli McVey, a Den­ver-based re­search editor for Mar­i­juana Busi­ness Daily, a trade pub­li­ca­tion.

In Mas­sachusetts this week, some mar­i­juana re­tail­ers re­ported mod­est de­mand as the state slowly emerges from one of the worst out­breaks of COVID-19 in the na­tion.

Boston’s Pure Oa­sis, the only re­tail pot shop lo­cated in a ma­jor East Coast city, is down about 50% from the roughly 600 cus­tomers a day it was av­er­ag­ing in March when it first opened its doors, and well short of the nearly 1,000 a day that it had ini­tially pro­jected, said co-owner Ko­bie Evans.

“This is to­tally un­charted ter­ri­tory,” he said. “But I be­lieve as a busi­ness, if you can get through a pan­demic, you can get through any­thing.”

Like other nonessen­tial re­tail­ers al­lowed to re­open this week, re­tail pot shops are lim­ited to of­fer­ing curb­side pickup and on­line and phone or­ders.

il­le­gal at

STEVEN SENNE/AP

A staff mem­ber watches as peo­ple en­ter the Pure Oa­sis recre­ational mar­i­juana store Tuesday in Boston.

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