Michigan marijuana industry changed, but thriving amid coronavirus pandemic
By Gus Burns
You can’t currently walk into a Michigan marijuana shop and peruse the shelves, but that hasn’t stopped product from flying off them.
Close to $1 million a day in marijuana flower, vaping oil and edibles is still being sold, despite coronavirus restrictions that limit sales to curbside pickup and delivery.
With approximately $27 million in April sales, the recreational marijuana industry continues its ascent as governments fill their coffers with new tax revenue, despite the coronavirus pandemic and a forced about-face within the industry.
The state experienced a record high in weekly sales, nearly $8 million, during the first week of May.
Since the first recreational sales began on Dec. 1, the industry, now with 106 recreational stores and more than 200 total businesses, has racked up $91 million in sales, which translates to $15.2 million in new tax revenue, between a 6% sales and 10% excise tax.
Recreational marijuana is for now being passed through the windows of parked cars by gloved budtenders and dropped at front porches like delivery pizza.
The young industry seemingly didn’t flinch amid the uncertainty that came when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a stay-home order that halted large segments of the state economy, but allowed marijuana businesses to remain open on a limited basis.
“We’ve had to hire staff during this time,” said Brett Stephens, general manager at Freddie’s, a retail store in Clio. “We’ve grown. We’ve seen retail sales go up by 100%.”
Freddies opened as a medical dispensary in August and received its recreational retail license Feb 22, just a couple weeks before the first two coronavirus cases were confirmed in Michigan and the governor issued a state of emergency.
“I wasn’t surprised (marijuana was deemed an essential item),” he said. “I was excited they made that distinction.”
The Marijuana Regulatory Agency, which oversees the industry, quickly pivoted to expedite delivery service licenses to numerous businesses and created rules for curbside transactions.
Freddie’s, a small store, is now servicing up to 200 people in its parking lot each day, Stephens said.
“Everybody is masked up and gloved during the entirety of the interaction,” he said. " ... Everything is put into a sterilized basket and that basket is sterilized between every interaction with every customer."
While many customers place online orders prior to arrival, others receive one-time-use menus to make their selections.
Another quickly growing offering that received a turbo boost by way of the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing rules is delivery service.
While there were only a dozen businesses licensed to deliver marijuana as of Feb. 12, that figure had blossomed to 63 as of Tuesday.
“You don’t even have to leave your house" to get marijuana during these “uncertain times” Stephens said.
Freddie’s expanded it’s delivery service across the state, including once-weekly deliveries to customers in Grand Rapids, more than 130 miles from the retail location. Due to state rules that limit the number of deliveries to 10 orders per driver, per trip, Freddie’s had to hire multiple delivery drivers just to keep up with its Grand Rapids customer base.