Cannabis, marijuana, weed, pot? Just call it a job machine

Asha Manaktala, left, leads the sales team at Harborside, a cannabis dispensary and farming company in Oakland, Calif., April 5, 2019. As the industry expands, there has been a strong demand for better-paid positions like chemists, software engineers, and nurses who consult with patients about using cannabis for anxiety and other medical conditions. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

For the second month in a row, Oregonians have found a way to cope with the stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

They purchased recreational cannabis in record numbers in April and March.

Sales of cannabis products were 44% higher last month compared to the same time last year. And cannabis flower sales, used for inhaling, were 67% higher in April compared to the same period in 2019, according to data from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

Other marijuana products, such as edibles and tinctures, also saw an increase in sales for the month of April.

In Deschutes County, the numbers tell a similar story.

Sales of cannabis flower in Deschutes County totaled more than $2.1 million, compared to $1.2 million in 2019, according to data provided by the OLCC.

Deemed an essential business early on by Gov. Kate Brown, the OLCC stepped in too and relaxed rules to allow for worker permits to be processed quickly and for curbside pickup.

“Curbside pickup makes things easier and safer for workers and consumers,” said Mark Pettinger, OLCC spokesman. “Many retail outlets are small and access to the product is controlled. The industry as a whole has behaved relatively well, and we’ve extended the boundaries.”

Initially responding to the governor’s edict to stay home, Tokyo Starfish, which operates three stores in Bend, closed all of them. After instituting safety measures, the company opened its southside location with protocols to protect customer and worker safety, said Gary Bracelin, co-founder.

In March, sales did surge upwards of 20% to 30%, Bracelin said. And sales have remained steady but at a more normal pace.

“Our first concern was the safety of our staff and the community,” Bracelin said. “We scrambled and five days after our closure, we were able to launch online service and reopen our south retail store location. Our customers seem to like and appreciate ordering online and just pulling up to pick up their order.”

Because of the virus, shops like Cannabend limit the number of people in the store and don’t allow customers to smell the product, said Lizette Coppinger, Cannabend founder. While initially some customers may have found the limitations off-putting, the store has increased its phone and curbside pickup, Coppinger said.

“There was a big surge of sales in the beginning right when the virus hit and there was a spike from people stocking up,” Coppinger said. “And then it slowed down again.”

Oregon overall has done well during COVID-19, better than other states that have legalized recreational use of cannabis, said Jocelyn Sheltraw, regional strategy director at Headset, a cannabis data analytics firm.

“Oregon’s adult-use cannabis market has been least impacted by COVID-19 out of all the states that Headset tracks,” Sheltraw said. “In fact, sales volumes in Oregon have been trending up, with median store sales growth at 225%. States like Nevada and Colorado have been seeing declines.

Sheltraw said Oregon’s cannabis growth has a lot to do with the industry being deemed as an essential business by the governor.

On average, sales of cannabis flower in Deschutes County have been about $1.2 million for the month of April. Statewide the sales averaged about $30 million for the month, until this year when they skyrocketed to $52 million.

The Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association said the uptick in sales could be occurring because more people are off work now due to business closures while the state tries to contain the virus. Other reasons could be using cannabis as a medication to treat anxiety, said Casey Houlihan, association executive director.

“We’re seeing a combination of factors,” Houlihan said. “We’re seeing consumers consuming more with the added time to the lockdown. People are also purchasing larger amounts to limit their trips, and there are more consumers trying cannabis than before.

“There’s a renewed sense of freedom. People can experiment to help them cope.”

Contactless shopping using online platforms has really helped the surge in sales, Houlihan said. “This is new territory for everyone.”

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