By John Haughey | The Center Square
Medical marijuana sales surged nationwide during the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, but have tailed off since mid-March, according to Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics.
Not so in Florida, where the state’s 239 dispensaries, including three scheduled to open Monday to coincide with since-canceled “4/20” celebrations nationwide, are experiencing sustained brisk sales.
Florida’s medical marijuana dispensaries recorded about $500 million in 2019 sales and are projected by Arcview and BDS to top $1.2 billion in 2020 sales. They are among businesses deemed essential under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ emergency orders.
On March 24, Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott A. Rivkees allowed the state’s 2,537 registered medical cannabis physicians to conduct telehealth appointments for “existing qualified patients” to receive medical marijuana IDs.
According to the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU), between March 6 and April 17, nearly 13,000 Floridians received new medical marijuana ID cards, boosting the state’s registry of patients to more than 336,380.
During the week of April 10-17, OMMU reported 33,313 ounces of smokable marijuana was sold statewide – the second-highest weekly volume recorded since state lawmakers allowed the sale of smokable marijuana in March 2019.
Florida’s highest weekly volume of smokable marijuana occurred during the week of March 13-20, when 36,386 ounces were sold statewide, 40 percent more than average.
Sales of smokable marijuana remain brisk despite physicians and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) suggesting patients avoid smoking marijuana, which some fear could weaken lung capacity and make patients potentially more vulnerable to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
NORMAL recommends patients "either limit or altogether avoid their exposure to combustive smoke of any kind” and instead use edibles and tinctures.
Nationwide, BDS documented surging sales through much of March, but mostly below average sales in April, attributing the spike to patients “stocking up” with larger than usual purchases and the decline in sales to many patients being out of work.
From March 13-20, cannabis sales shot up 28 percent nationwide, said BDS, a Colorado-based marijuana market research firm.
Since then, sales have flattened, BDS said, citing job loss as the most likely reason. In states where it's legal, 32 percent of cannabis patients have incomes below $35,000 and 54 percent have full-time employment, according to BDS.
Florida's largest dispensary operator, Trulieve, opened its 46th storefront Monday in Titusville, but did so without planned “4/20” celebrations. It was one of three dispensaries green-lighted to open this week by the OMMU.
Trulieve and other dispensary operations are doing business under COVID-19 safety protocols, Trulieve chief sales officer Tim Morey told Florida TODAY.
"The customer experience during the pandemic obviously has shifted significantly," Morey said. "We encourage everybody to order online ahead of time. And when they come into the location, they'll be met by one of our Tru hosts that will have an iPad.”
Patients are asked to remain outside until they receive a text to pick up their order, he said.
ALTMED, which operates 19 Florida dispensaries, has adopted a “no guests” policy, admitting only patients and requiring them to wait outside after registering with receptionists and closing the stores on Sundays “to facilitate deep cleaning and sanitizing.”
Curaleaf, which operates 28 dispensaries across the state, has waived delivery fees and is offering an express pickup service.
“We understand that access to our dispensaries offer a real benefit to our customers’ health, so we want to ensure that those experiences are as safe as possible,” Curaleaf President Joe Bayern said.