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4/20 and Coronavirus Are Testing the Legal Marijuana Industry

Marijuana Pickup

By Michael R. Blood, Associated Press

(AP) — The unofficial holiday celebrating all things cannabis passed by Monday as the nation’s emerging legal marijuana market braces for an economic blow from the coronavirus crisis.

It was supposed to be a long weekend of festivals and music culminating on April 20, or 4/20, the code for marijuana’s high holiday. Instead, it was reduced to an online replica because of stay-at-home orders to curb the pandemic.

Virtual parties and video chats replaced vast outdoor smoking sessions to mark the rise of legalization and celebrate cannabis culture. The origin of the annual celebration is believed to be tied to a group of Northern California high school friends from the early 1970s who used the code as slang for smoking pot after school at 4:20pm.

Steve White, CEO of Arizona-based Harvest Health & Recreation, said he’s watching to see if consumers treat marijuana more like beer or toilet paper when money runs short.

“Do people buy less cannabis, or does it become more ingrained as part of their daily life?” White said.

It will be a telling year, because no one in the relatively new industry knows if sales will plunge, stay flat or even rise.

The uncertainty in the market poses the latest challenge for an industry that’s expanded in some form to all but a handful of states.

Business at dispensaries has generally has flattened or tapered off, even with deliveries and curbside pickups growing to reduce health risks. Marijuana data trackers BDS Analytics documented sales surges through much of March, but then consumers pulled back in late March and early April, with sales mostly below average.

Steve DeAngelo, co-founder of Harborside dispensaries in California, said it’s difficult to predict what’s next, with no template for how cannabis consumers will react in a deep economic downturn.

“There is not going to be an extinction moment,” DeAngelo said. “It’s going to prove more resilient than many, many other industries.”

AP Photo Richard Vogel


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