Business has been solid at Revolution Releaf, a medical cannabis dispensary in Laurel since it opened about two years ago.

But Owner Alan Sharp said that doesn’t mean that anyone knew what to expect when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Would sales jump due increased need for medicines to heal the body and calm the nerves? Would they drop for what some observers see as an optional item?

Or would dispensaries even fit the state of Maryland’s definition of an essential business and stay open?

The dispensaries were deemed essential and many dispensary owners have reported a boost to their bottom lines, at times boasting a 50 percent sales increase.

“I think there has been an increased demand within the past two-plus months, which is especially good because people were concerned that there might be supply chain interruption due to the pandemic,” said Sharp.

Like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, “There was a panic-buying mentality going on during the pandemic’s earlier days. Every time [Gov. Larry] Hogan had a morning briefing to discuss the stay-at-home order or the various restrictions,” he said, “we saw a big spike in sales right around that point in the day.”

Thankfully for Sharp and his peers, supply chain issues haven’t materialized as they have in the food processing business. He thinks that when dispensaries were deemed essential by the state government, “There was a sense of relief from the medical cannabis patient community, with sales now having returned to closer to normal,” he said, though adding that “demand is still about 20 percent more than pre-COVID-19.”

Gina Dubbé, managing director of Greenhouse Wellness in Ellicott City, has also found business “consistent-to-very-good.”

Shad Ewart, chair of the Business Management Department at Anne Arundel Community College, was also unsure of what to expect when the pandemic hit since the medical cannabis industry is relatively new.

“This is the era of the Wild West,” said Ewart. “There are minimal regulations and everyone and their brother and sister are jumping in with products for pain and anxiety for dogs, cats and humans. You name it and they’re putting [CBD] in anything and everything. You can even get it at gas stations.”

He said,  “I think what we’re witnessing is a humongous roll-out of products, most of which are cheap enough that folks are giving them a try – and sales keep rising. However, cannabis dispensaries in Maryland, after a dip in [sales in] February ($27,567,518) experienced a big increase in March ($33,495,662),” which could also have been the result of customers stocking up since it wasn’t known yet if dispensaries could stay open.”

April’s figures will be telling, Ewart said, adding that state residents who hold Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) cards “tend to be more highly educated and therefore may hold jobs that were not subject to layoffs, so there might be just a general increase as more folks get cards in Maryland.”

Today, the medical cannabis market has returned to normal activity but at higher volumes.

While some stores are still allowing patients to enter while keeping a six-foot distance, Revolution Releaf, which Sharp called “an average size for a dispensary,” opted for online pre-order and curbside delivery for minimal contact.

“Our customers simply park in our lot, we give them a number, they present their MMCC ID and we hand them their order,” Sharp said.

Greenhouse is also using curbside delivery, Dubbé said, adding that the dispensary has prepared to reopen by setting up cough guards and placing more distance between registers.

With dispensaries now considered essential businesses, the stigma might finally shift away from the cannabis industry.

“I’m wondering if the legalization of cannabis will be part of the resurgence of our country’s economy,” Dubbé said, “much like alcohol helped with tax revenues after prohibition. It seems kind of the same, doesn’t it?”

Mark R. Smith | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly | June 2020 issue