Recreational Cannabis Shops Ordered to Close in Massachusetts

theory-wellness

Recreational cannabis dispensaries across Massachusetts have been forced to close after Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order requiring all “non-essential” businesses to shutter until April 7, 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Medical marijuana firms will still be allowed to fill patient orders, however, after Baker said those entities -- as well as liquor stores, pharmacies, grocery stores, and other business that offer “essential goods and services” -- could remain open during the two-week time period.

“We will not stop anyone from accessing these essential businesses,” he said during a press conference on Monday, acknowledging that businesses such as recreational pot shops would be adversely impacted due to their inability to put in place “remote or telework policies.”

Indeed, recreational cannabis firms across the state will likely lose out on millions of dollars in sales at a time when a growing number of existing marijuana users and canna-curious customers are eager to purchase the plant to help reduce stress.

“Cannabis provides a small measure of relaxation which can help to ease the anxieties we are all facing during this time, much like a glass of wine to unwind at the end of the day,” said David Torrisi, the president of the Commonwealth Dispensary Association, which is lobbying Baker to relax the current restrictions on recreational providers.

“Although adult use is regulated separately from medical, two-thirds of customers use cannabis for management of medical conditions and symptoms,” Torrisi added. “This loss of access would be akin to losing out on over the counter remedies for many.”

Baker’s stay-at-home advisory and the required various business closures are aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus which, as of press time, had claimed the lives of 783 Americans, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The rationale behind closing recreational stores and not medical dispensaries is intended to limit traffic coming in from other states, Baker said.

Nevertheless, adult-use operators who spoke to THCnet said they were taking the decision in stride. 

“This outbreak is changing a lot of things and everyone is trying their best to navigate it,” said Thomas Winstanley, the director of marketing at Theory Wellness, which operates three dispensaries across Massachusetts.

“Obviously, whenever these mandates come down, we always act in accordance with the rules that are in place,” he added.

Two of Theory Wellness’ outposts service medical customers and will remain open for those patients. The company’s only adult-use only dispensary in Chicopee, Massachusetts, which opened on February 29, processed its final transactions this morning, however. 

“We definitely had a line at the start of the morning, and it continued to build a bit but we worked through it,” Winstanley said, noting that customers were required to make online pre-orders in order to purchase cannabis before the shutdown.

Meanwhile, another Massachusetts cannabis company, Garden Remedies, said it saw an uptick in recreational sales last week as consumers stocked up in anticipation of possible shutdown. Jim Comber, the company’s director of marketing, said sales at its Newton location were up double-digits versus the previous month despite switching to online ordering and shortening hours.

“We had a very strong day yesterday after Gov. Baker's announcement,” he said, adding that Garden Remedies was “disappointed” in the decision to close recreational shops.

“As a company, we believe in the states that have continued to allow recreational dispensaries to be open and operating,” Comber told THCnet, noting that medical sales only account for about 20% of Garden Remedies’ total revenue. 

“Focusing on that area only is definitely a large hit to our business in the short-term,” he added.

As of press time, Massachusetts is the only state with both medical and recreational dispensaries that has restricted adult-use sales as a result of the coronavirus.

For his part, Torrisi believes recreational cannabis firms are well positioned to operate under more strict health and safety guidelines.

“Given the highly regulated nature of this industry and its experience with crowd management, these operators are well positioned to operate in the current environment,” he said via a statement. “All have adopted CDC guidance to support safe distancing and minimize interactions and have been enacting them for some time. Operators also have more control over the sales floor and customer movement in and outside of the store than other businesses.”