COVID-19 Is Leaving Its Mark On The Cannabis Industry, Insiders Say

Marijuana insiders predict more ingestion of edibles and fewer random products infused with CBD.

Like many people working in the cannabis industry, Stephen Jones expected to make a lot of green around 420 this year.

Jones, a cannabis marketer and professional Bob Marley impersonator in San Diego, California, figured there would be massive 420 celebrations throughout April 2020.

“The whole month is 420!” Jones told HuffPost, who said he was trying to organize a series of concerts and events before the coronavirus shut down public gatherings.

The lockdowns have forced cannabis insiders like Jones and others to rethink their 420 plans. Although Jones may still be able to continue performing as the reggae legend online, he’s now focusing his business efforts on selling watches that have been permanently set at 4:20 for $4.20 each.

San Diego-based cannabis marketer Stephen Jones also makes a living as a Bob Marley impersonator.
San Diego-based cannabis marketer Stephen Jones also makes a living as a Bob Marley impersonator.
Courtesy of Stephen Jones

COVID-19 has had some interesting effects on the cannabis industry, including some that might be seen as positive, according to Emma Spivey, founder of Her Royal Hempress, a cannabis beauty brand.

“The value of cannabis is much harder to dismiss when millions of Americans use it daily to cope with one of the most stressful events of our lifetime,” Spivey told HuffPost. “The pandemic has validated what many regular cannabis lovers have known for years — this healing plant is essential AF.”

But the need to self-quarantine has also changed how the wacky weed is enjoyed, admits Valarie Sakota, a co-founder of Barbari, a blend of herbal supplements designed to be smoked with marijuana.

“Cannabis, especially smoking, is often such a social activity,” Sakota told HuffPost. “‘Puff puff pass’ requires at least one other companion, and 4/20 has always been a day to meet up with friends or make new friends and celebrate the mind-opening, giggly, musky goodness that weed provides.”

That lack of social contact is requiring cannabis companies to predict how it will affect future sales, according to George Sadler, president of Platinum, a San Diego-based cannabis company.

“I see a market split developing,” Sadler told HuffPost. “There’s always going to be a demand for cannabis, but what people are willing to pay will change. I think cannabis companies will have to adapt to this, whether it be through entry-level products offered at a lower price point or shifting their marketing dollars to a different demo.”

The coronavirus may also shift cannabis sales toward products that don’t need to be smoked or vaped, according to cannabis industry consultant Andrew DeAngelo.

“With a respiratory virus going around, I think anything that is not inhaled will be more popular than it was before COVID-19 with cannabis consumers,” DeAngelo told HuffPost. “I love to inhale cannabis, but even I have cut down. I see that trend holding.”

“I think CBD will have a place in every medicine cabinet in the country, either as a topical or ingestible.”

- Katie Stem, CEO of Peak Extracts

DeAngelo also said marijuana marketers are split between focusing on hardcore potheads or trying to capture the vast market of occasional users.

“The issue with heavy users versus people with lower tolerance and less frequent use is basic economics,” DeAngelo explained. “If you are a heavy user, you cannot afford to buy all of your cannabis in the legal market, not here in California. And the issue with the less frequent user is, you cannot build a business on their backs. You can supplement a business with them, but you need those heavy users to buy any retail product. I don’t care what it is, the heavy user drives it. Cannabis is no different.”

But growing the pot market in states where cannabis is legal will remain a challenge as long as it is illegal at the federal level, according to Ben Larson of Vertosa, a company that makes cannabis infusions for beverages and other products.

“In my eyes, the federal government has been criminally negligent in their classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug,” he told HuffPost. “There is a litany of evidence for the use of cannabis in medicine, and they have been aware of it for decades. There is an industry attempting to play by the rules created by the states, yet no guaranteed banking for those organizations.”

“The deliberate blind eye of the federal government has created an unsafe environment where patients aren’t guaranteed the medicine they need and businesses are often forced to operate with cash.”

One thing that is staying the same ― coronavirus or not ― is the continuing rise of CBD, according to Katie Stem, CEO of Peak Extracts, a Portland, Oregon-based edibles and topicals company.

“I think CBD will have a place in every medicine cabinet in the country, either as a topical or ingestible because it can have such a positive impact on people’s sleep, anxiety, pain and inflammation,” she said.

However, she predicted a decline in products like CBD-infused clothing or pillows that “have little demonstrable utility other than novelty.”

That thought gets support from Michael Sassano of Solaris Farms, a large-scale industrial hybrid greenhouse cultivator in Las Vegas. He says while CBD might work like an herbal supplement or aspirin, he admitted with a laugh that “it makes no sense to be on popcorn.”

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