The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has prompted a temporary addition to Washington’s retail cannabis industry: drive-up service. Several Vancouver-area cannabis stores have immediately jumped on board, advertising online ordering with curbside pickup options.
“It’s the fastest and safest way to order,” said Tran Du, manager at New Vansterdam on Mill Plain Boulevard.
The state Liquor and Cannabis Board first announced the rule change on March 17, the same day that it announced that some bars and restaurants would be able to start doing curbside alcohol sales. The initial rule change applied only to cannabis customers who were medical marijuana patients; but on Tuesday, the board expanded the policy to apply to all recreational sales as well.
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statewide stay-at-home order on Monday, compelling Washington residents to remain in their homes except for necessary trips, such as grocery shopping. The order exempts several “Essential Critical Infrastructure” businesses, allowing them to continue operating and allowing workers and customers to continue travelling to them.
Cannabis made the cut; Inslee’s order classifies retail cannabis workers as essential, along with workers at most other stages of the cannabis product production pipeline.
Multiple Vancouver store owners and managers described the new curbside procedures as a matter of safety for customers and budtenders, as well as a means to speed up shopping as cannabis stores continue to grapple with higher-than-usual traffic.
“It’s slowing down a little this week,” said Morgan Hutchinson, co-owner of High End Market Place in downtown Vancouver, “but last week, we were busier than we’ve been in a long time.”
Demand for marijuana products has spiked as homebound consumers seek to stock up. Many cannabis retailers in the Vancouver area adopted “one in, one out” policies last week to limit the number of customers in their stores, with some also putting down internal and external tape lines to help maintain 6-foot-separation distances between visitors.
Most local stores appear to be following the same basic procedure for curbside service. Customers are urged to place their orders online or by phone in advance, and to have cash ready when they pull up. A budtender will come out and check customer IDs and take payment (cannabis stores are still limited to cash transactions), then return with their order.
Some stores have added other features in the past week to try to further increase social distancing. Main Street Marijuana in downtown Vancouver added a temporary walk-up window, according to co-owner Adam Hamide.
New Vansterdam began using a set of eight ordering kiosks about six months ago, and last week the store staff moved them all out in front of the building, spaced 6 feet apart, so walk-up customers can place their orders outside and only enter the store to pick them up. The store has also installed Plexiglas “sneeze guards” around its cash register area.
Following in the footsteps of several big grocery store chains, High End has temporarily shortened its business hours and instituted a special shopping time from 8 to 10 a.m. daily which will be set aside for seniors and others who are at a higher risk of complications from COVID-19.
The Cannabis Board describes the curbside pickup allowance as temporary, and Hutchinson said she thinks the option will indeed likely go away after the pandemic has subsided. The policy requires budtenders to check the IDs of every person in each car, she said, which is actually more logistically complicated than simply checking customer IDs as they walk into the store.
“It’s just temporary while the stay-at-home (order) is in place,” she said.