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Cannabis and the Coronavirus

Steps for Growers to Manage the Impacts


The COVID-19 pandemic will change the dynamics of growing marijuana in many ways. Adapting to the new norm will require innovation and flexibility for cannabis growers of any size to survive financially and continue to cultivate the best crop. 

Staying informed, planning, resiliency, and farming optimism is all necessary for maneuvering business and operational changes stemming from the pandemic. 

In a recent survey by Cannabis Business Times, almost 40% of cannabis businesses, including cultivators, reported the need to shut down part of their operations since the beginning of the COVID-19 health crisis. [1] Although different regions of the country are experiencing varying issues and to different degrees, concerns exist for the long-term effect the pandemic will have on the legal cannabis industry; for workers, day to day operations, new retail or distribution restrictions, and customers who may continue to be out of work for an extended period.

There can be no doubt that the Coronavirus has already influenced the cannabis industry in numerous ways, including market expansion with a stall of most legislation for legalization. Even with efforts by the U. S. House to include the SAFE Banking Act in a Coronavirus Relief bill, most revisions to cannabis regulations at the Federal, State, and Local levels are on hold. 

Further, fallout may influence cannabis product categories generally. As science attempts to identify risk factors for the disease, cautionary news articles are appearing that suggest inhaling smoke or vaping may have unknown implications relative to COVID-19. In the mix of changing theories, it is unclear what long-term effect on cannabis sales public perception and other factors largely out of our control may have on the cultivation of legal cannabis. Fortunately, there are some actions that may help a grower of any size better deal with business ramifications from this pandemic, now and later.

A concern for many cannabis enterprises is an interruption of the supply chain of supplies and equipment and specifically for growers, nutrients, supplements, and pest controls necessary for successful cultivation. Although many cannabis operations are exempt from lockdown as essential businesses in most areas, distributors, and manufacturers of vital supplies or parts may not be. Manufacturing of key supplies, and components may slow or stop, imports may become temporarily unavailable and some businesses facing financial stress may even close altogether.

Worries about growing equipment and product shortages become more acute as empty shelves or low inventories of key items start to appear at suppliers, especially since early Spring of 2020. Some shortages are because of seasonal demand and there is also a recent increase in consumers growing their own plants, but much of it comes from supply chain issues caused by the pandemic. An added concern is over the procurement of the merchandise that cannabis farmers depend on as truck drivers and warehouse workers increasingly become ill or participate in labor actions, or shipping and distribution hubs temporarily close.

In the equation of procuring necessary supplies is also the time required to receive an order. With social distancing for employees, many shippers, and dealers have extended lead times for order processing, a big factor is planning and budgeting for a grow season. 

Alternate methods of shipping may not be much of an option as huge numbers of consumers move to online shopping, and delivery times seem to increase substantially each week for most retailers and their carriers, despite the type of merchandise. In addition, the heavy weight of nutrients and substrates can add significantly to a shipping bill, making some methods of delivery cost-prohibitive. Also, most manufacturers do not ship directly to a retail customer; you must purchase through a dealer.

It may be only an inconvenience in some situations or a major obstacle to others, but retail shopping and pickup options may also change and restrict business activity or even product availability as companies adjust to new rules. Curbside pickup-only or reduced hours of operation are examples of possible scenarios moving forward.

Costs to all parties in the cannabis horticulture supply chain are rising right next to inventory shortages. It costs more to manufacture and bring the goods to the end user, including a grower. Some companies, recognizing the increased demand are also bumping their prices to protect narrow margins. The bottom-line is that everything related to growing cannabis is going up in price at a steady rate; the pandemic crisis accelerates it.

If you are a grower, the best course of action to avoid any shortage of a product you depend on and to minimize the dent from price increases is to have a plan of action and begin now to keep your inventories stocked. Even as markets open and resemble normal again, there is no certainty that distribution of goods will not experience disruption again later as the health crisis evolves, or moves to subsequent “waves” and economic hits continue or get worse.

Nutrients, Pest Controls, Parts, and Supplies

Start by making a list of what you require for a seasonal grow, or for a specific period, like 6 months. Make sure to include backups like bulbs if you grow indoors for example, and prepare ample storage space before begin procuring what is on the list. Some items will be available immediately, and some will not. Those you cannot get right away will at least be in line to ship and arrive eventually, either direct to you from drop-shipping or through your dealer. The point is to start now.

A word of caution about hoarding chemical products: most nutrients, supplements, and pesticides have a finite shelf life. Most will change in composition over time making them unsuitable and unsafe for use. Purchasing more products than you will need for a reasonable time within safe use dates on a product label is not a good idea for your wallet, your plants, or the environment.

Some items, like gloves, masks, or sterilizing agents may be scarce or available sporadically for some time, although some hydroponic stores may have stock remaining or maintain

regular inventory replacements.

Marijuanapackaging.com is a reputable wholesale vendor for dispensaries and cannabis producers and an additional online source for safety supplies. http://marijuanapackaging.com

Living Material

Seed sales are reportedly increasing to record levels with many vendors showing out-of-stock labels on their websites. Prices are slowly increasing, but finding specific strains is becoming more of a challenge since March of 2020. Purchasing seed should be close to planting time for the most viable stock; however, buying several months ahead of time is usually still safe for good germination rates. If you start your crop with seeds, it is a good idea to remain aware of inventories and availability generally, moving forward.

Clones are in a class of merchandise all their own. Availability from authorized sellers is always changing, so it is important to secure a reliable source for clones before you need them and either pre-order or add your name to a reserve list for the varieties you wish to grow. Make certain that you have access to pick the clones up if a shelter-in-place order or a restriction on business activity, when they are ready. Some establishments offer delivery, curbside pickup, or minimal contact purchasing, a consideration for many types of transactions going forward.

Work Safety

Staffing requirements will likely change in several ways now and during a post-pandemic period. Labor needs will shift, employees will require different accommodations and workplaces will look different. Even for a home grower who receives an occasional delivery or employs seasonal help, new procedures will become necessary to protect safety and avoid liability. 

Cultivators already engage many protocols utilized by retail cannabis facilities to provide a safe working environment for personnel and visitors. Safe distancing, masks where required, and access to hand-washing is some of the ways. Some locations may also require a written policy for procedures at a facility, or additional requirements for operation during the pandemic crisis and phases of lifted restrictions.

Since guidance and standards change regularly, it is important to stay abreast of current recommendations and requirements specific to your jurisdiction to not only remain compliant, but safe.

Nurture Vendor Relationships

This is a demanding time for the many facets of the cannabis industry and the many support businesses that depend on a vibrant marketplace. Recent business changes from vaping fears, and reported disappointing sales from four-twenty promotions in many places have increased concerns about further damage to the cannabis economy from the pandemic. 

Now, more than ever, cannabis consumers and producers must work to support one another. From home growers or large commercial operations, testing labs, distributors, local hydroponic stores, nutrient and equipment manufacturers, delivery services, retailers, dispensaries, publishers, and sales, or product support; the cannabis sector has connections to each other in many ways, making mutual and thoughtful patronage imperative for the long-term success of an entire industry.

Long-range Outlook

A post-pandemic view of cannabis cultivation appears strong economically, but like other sectors of the marketplace, it will probably look very different down the road. In a 2019 Gallup poll, 12% of U.S. adults said they smoke marijuana. [2] According to Gallup, that number has remained the same since about 2015, so it is likely that medical and retail (recreational) cannabis sales in general will increase with more legal markets opening. With new legislative action that includes provisions for banking, markets will likely further expand and refine themselves to new trends and protocols resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic. While consumer preferences may shift and regulations change, most industry professionals are optimistic about the future for increasing use and sales.

As cultivators, meeting the challenges of COVID-19 will come from staying informed and developing creative solutions for new ways of operating and conducting business, especially when it is all behind us. With good planning, collaboration, and innovation, this will then someday become another conquered hurdle for people in cannabis, despite their role. 

Additional Information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

[1] Simakis, M. (2020, April 7). Survey Results: COVID-19 Poses Challenges for Cannabis Industry. Cannabis Business Times. Retrieved from: https://www.cannabisbusinesstimes.com/article/covid-19-survey-cannabis-industry-impact/

[2] Hrynowski, Z. (2020, January 31). The Short Answer: What Percentage of Americans Smoke Marijuana? Gallup. Retrieved from:

https://news.gallup.com/poll/284135/percentage-americans-smoke-marijuana.aspx



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