On a somewhat sunny Tuesday afternoon in South Salinas, about eight people waited in line to purchase marijuana at East of Eden — they stood six feet apart from each other.
More customers sat in their vehicles, awaiting curbside service from the cannabis dispensary.
The delivery option is a first of its kind in Salinas after the store received the green light from the Bureau of Cannabis Control to help fight the coronavirus’ spread.
It’s one of many precautions East of Eden is taking to halt COVID-19, said Mike Bitar, who cofounded East of Eden alongside Gavin Kogan, with the cannabis consortium Grupo Flor.
Salinas’ other dispensaries have also enacted strict rules to combat COVID-19 amid a surging market — East of Eden sales are up 10-15% daily, Kogan said.
CannaCruz, on Abbot Street, has also seen surges, said Grant Palmer, its owner.
„Every time something comes up or the president says something stupid, people come in,” Palmer said.
Indica-strain marijuana, often used to treat anxiety, has seen around a 40% increase in the past two weeks at East of Eden, Bitar said.
„Anxiety has probably been the biggest driver (of customers’ purchases) in these uncertain times,” he said.
‚Like the toilet paper industry’
At CannaCruz, Palmer said he’s seen fewer customers — likely a result of Monterey County’s shelter in place order.
But they’re buying in higher quantities — whereas flower was measured in grams before, now they’re buying in half ounces.
„We had someone come in and buy $400 (worth) of edibles all at once,” he said. „But it makes sense, they can sit at home for three weeks and have plenty of candies.”
However, CannaCruz has experienced massive surges at times in which people „panic buy” as much as they can, leaving the shelves as empty as a toilet paper rack at Walmart, Palmer said.
But people also seem to be abiding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and the shelter in place order.
Like CannaCruz, Emerald Skyways, located near the Salinas Municipal Airport, has experienced a „roller coaster” in traffic the last two weeks, said Krista Fontius, director of the store.
„The first couple of days, for us, was much like the toilet paper industry experience. It was a surge in purchasing,” she said. „We were trying to deal with crowds of people and trying to keep our customers safe. Now our challenge is how do we maintain inventory on the shelf.”
Cannabis companies have been deemed „essential” because of medicinal users, according to the BCC.
„Because cannabis is an essential medicine for many residents, licensees may continue to operate at this time, as long as their operations comply with local rules and regulations,” read statements from the Bureau of Cannabis Control, which regulates most of the cannabis industry, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which regulates cultivation.
Palmer, Wescott and Kogan all said that since Proposition 64 legalized the recreational market, it has blended with the medicinal market.
Essentially, patients don’t want to pay for a medicinal recommendation to acquire the same product, even if it’s taxed at a slightly lower rate.
Bitar pointed to a nurse who’d purchased a cannabis alternative to cortisone shots for her carpal tunnel syndrome.
„Surprisingly, with doctors locally, (we get) two to three customers a day saying their doctor told them to come in here,” Bitar said.
East of Eden offers delivery services as well and is revamping them, Kogan said.
Both CannaCruz and Emerald Skyways are also looking at offering delivery and curbside service, though those could involve many hurdles, Fontius said.
That’s the only option in Nevada, where the governor shuttered storefronts, according to a local news station.
Washington, which had a major outbreak of COVID-19, has allowed storefronts to remain open under certain rules.
‚We have to do’ more
Even though they are deemed essential, marijuana businesses still need to go beyond just the recommendations, Kogan said.
„To prove we’re legitimate, a good actor, we have to do a little more,” he said.
Each of the dispensaries has enacted strict rules.
Palmer said CannaCruz takes the temperature of all employees before they start their shifts.
To help the line move more quickly and improve social distancing, all products now have the taxes included in their price tags, he said.
He’s going through a bottle and a half of disinfectant each day at the Salinas branch.
„Basically, if a customer touches something we wipe it down every time,” he said.
The sales floor also has a limit on how many people can be present and leave policy.
„If anybody has allergies, we send them home for the day,” he said.
Emerald Skyways also is sending anyone with a whiff of illness home in addition to limiting access to the sales floor, said Fontius, its director. They’ve even propped doors open so no one has to touch the handles, she said.
Customers place orders on tablets, which are wiped down before and after use, and then staff brings out the orders, she said.
They’ve also removed chairs in the lobby to encourage social distancing, she said.
In addition to setting up a roped line with marks for social distancing, East of Eden also closes for five minutes every hour to wipe down anything a customer could have touched, Bitar said. Customers are also asked to avoid touching anything and one employee is dedicated to constant cleaning, he said.
As the pandemic continues to unfold, dispensaries are taking things day by day, Fontius said.
„We’re just trying to see what the future will hold and adjust staff to match operations,” she said.
Joe Szydlowski is a multimedia journalist for the Salinas Californian who covers local government, crime and cannabis. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JoeSzyd_Salinas. He can be reached at 235-2360. Help support The Californian’s work: https://bit.ly/2Qo298J