People Are Still Using Cannabis During The Pandemic. How Are They Getting It?

“We’re considered an 'essential service,'” one dealer told BuzzFeed News. “Which is a mixed blessing because I have to pay for my divorce and rent but I’m immunocompromised.”

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What better way to deal with a global, economy-shattering, life-altering, seemingly endless pandemic than tucking in at home (as the government has asked you to do for a few weeks now), watching something soothing (may I recommend Tiger King?), and rolling a joint, using some CBD drops, eating an edible, or whatever else is your preferred method of cannabis relaxation? But, of course, it’s not clear how much access to cannabis we’ll have as the shutdown goes on.

In response to a BuzzFeed News callout, hundreds of people across the country and in Canada told us how they were getting their cannabis products, how supply has changed, how their dealers have changed the process of buying, and whether they’re worried about future supply as the quarantine goes on. We also received a number of replies from dealers in different cities who either are ramping up sales due to high demand or have stopped selling entirely because they can’t do so safely. (In fact, thanks to me tweeting repeatedly about this story and looking for dealers who wanted to talk, my inbox now has a number of emails asking for leads on new dealers from people who lost theirs. If any of you know someone “mainly in the Sharon/Stoughton/Canton area” of Massachusetts, I know a guy who needs a guy.)

For people in smaller towns, access to weed feels scarce, and there are a lot of worries that one day, it won’t be available at all. For people in larger cities, they can still access the products they need — just with stringent rules. In cities where weed is legal, only a certain number of customers can enter the dispensary at a time, meaning there are often long lines queued up outside. In cities where it’s illegal, dealers are often refusing cash and only taking Venmo, and not allowing customers to touch any of the product except what they buy. These rules are reasonable — and are likely going to become more and more customary — for the time we’re living in, but they’re not what you usually associate with inviting a stranger over to your home and rummaging through their backpack before choosing a treat for yourself.

What’s clear, at least, is that the shutdown has only made people want to buy even more weed during our collective endless, unwanted staycation. No better time than now, when we have literally nothing to do but sit and wait, to ride out life with a blunt. As one dealer said, “Do you have any idea how many people would hate me if I stopped right now?”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that smoking weed, especially right now, isn’t a great idea for your health. Smoking has a lot of adverse health effects in general, but, in the time of COVID-19, it’s even more ill-advised because it increases the risk of respiratory illness. The complications that come with coronavirus — tightening in your chest, trouble breathing — could be made worse if you’re a regular smoker.

But coronavirus notwithstanding, some people still need cannabis products for their health during this time. Whether it’s for pain management for cancer treatments, anxiety, depression, PTSD management, or just to while away the seemingly infinite hours that we’re all trapped in our own homes, the demand for weed has skyrocketed in the last few weeks. One cannabis seller in Denver wrote saying that business is busier than ever. “We’re considered an ‘essential service,’” 30-year-old “budtender” Jane (a pseudonym, which I’ve used for all respondents identified by name in this story) said, “which is a mixed blessing because I have to pay for my divorce and rent but I’m immunocompromised so I’m just trying to stay as clean as possible and socially distance.”

As one dealer said, “Do you have any idea how many people would hate me if I stopped right now?”

Jane confirmed that sales have jumped. “We usually see around $25,000 to $30,000 a day in sales, but we’ve seen that jump by roughly $10,000 daily in the last week,” she wrote, adding that tips have, unfortunately, decreased. “We used to see 350 people a day and now we see about 450.” In Denver, there’s a strict curbside-service-only rule, so the place where she works now sees between 25 and 40 customers in their parking lot every day. Many of them, however, aren’t locals. “We’re still seeing a flow of completely blase tourists. They just want to see Colorado, they don’t care,” she said. “Like the seniors who want to try topicals for the first time because they’re stiff from sitting around and just bored enough to give cannabis a whirl.”

Another seller based in Dallas — where cannabis is not legal — also reported a big jump in their sales. “I normally make $300 per day during the week in profit, and about $2,000 each weekend,” he said. “Well, this past weekend I made $4,000 and $800 each [week]day.” When asked if he’s worried about his supply, he demurred: “Not at all. I run with the wolves.”

What’s really affecting sales right now, however, is unemployment. So far, thanks to the pandemic’s disruption of the economy (and everything else, while we’re at it), more than 3 million unemployment claims have been filed nationally. “My customer base is very small,” said another cannabis seller based in Greensboro, North Carolina, where weed isn’t legal. “Even losing one person can really have an effect on the entire business.”

On the other hand, people who still have discretionary income are buying twice as much as they normally do, and some dealers are only selling entire ounces in order to avoid leaving their houses more frequently than they have to. For frequent-ish users, there seems to be a minor panic about getting access to weed. “Some people are scared they’ll run out, just like with booze and toilet paper,” Jane said. “Some people need more now for the stress and chronic conditions exacerbated by that stress. Some need their medicine desperately as at any other time, like my medical patients who are sequestered because they have compromised immune systems from chemo.

“Some are just preppers. Coloradans are stockpiling cannabis and guns like crazy. Some people even think they’ll never see legal weed again, that if we eventually shut down, that it’ll be the end of all of this,” Jane said. “They’re panic shopping, just like with everything else.”

For customers who smoke or consume weed for medical purposes, they are indeed panic shopping, but there’s a real fear behind their anxiety. Karen is mostly worried about access for the sake of her 18-year-old son, who has autism. She gives him edibles, which help him sleep along with calming his behavioral issues and his OCD, instead of the costly pharmaceuticals he used to be on, which also caused a host of unpleasant side effects.

“He was on Risperdal and it caused him to grow breasts,” she said. “I think he has the emotional and mental maturity of maybe a four year old. Here he was, 14 or 15, and he was growing breasts, and that was really confusing for him. We had to pull him off that medication but a lot of that dealt with a lot of OCD-type things and harmful behavior-type things.”

 “As soon as I get my next check, I have a whole set-up ready to start growing my own.” 

Medicating her son with weed has helped mitigate the symptoms of his autism, but has also allowed her to take him off pharmaceutical medication altogether. Karen also smokes weed herself to help with her anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and PTSD. As with her son, she also had a series of bad side effects with her pharmaceutical medications. “I used to take Xanax and have terrible, terrible side effects on that and go to scary places,” she said. “I haven’t had to deal with any of that for years. There’s a fear of going back to that.”

The results from our callout show a pretty anxious group of people from around the country and in Canada, all with their own worries about getting the cannabis they want or need. “I’m worried for my friends who get it locally to help their pain and anxiety,” wrote one person from Kansas. “I’m afraid it will make their conditions worse and they won’t have anything to help.” Many users are unable to work right now because they weren’t working for an essential service, and are no longer making any money. “If I don’t work,” wrote one, “I can’t buy.”

“My dealer said he could barely find me any for a last sale and to watch what I use,” wrote one person who said they were from the Midwest. “The price started at $300 for an ounce but he found some for $230 today, thank god.” Many replies came from people who stocked up when state-by-state shutdowns first started being announced, mostly buying large quantities of buds to tide them over until, hopefully, we can all go back outside. They were also aware that dealers who offer pickup in their homes or delivery are risking their own health. “I worry about the health of my dealer,” wrote one person. “They are a nice person.”

If you’re medicating with weed right now, losing access to it is a scary proposition. The fallout (and misinformation) of this virus is making it harder for people to get their prescriptions filled, and pharmacies are now completely overrun. For Jennifer, 39, from Austin, Texas, smoking weed helps with her psychogenic nonepileptic seizures. “Smoking helps regulate my anxiety to where I have less seizures. The more I’m anxious, the more seizures I have. It also helps with the pain of seizures, because my body is so out of whack, I’m almost like a pretzel after them,” she said. “It’s a little bit scary. I’m trying to be as sparse as I can with it.” Worse, maybe, is that Jennifer’s seizures are even more frequent now thanks to the added stress of worrying about the world ending. “You have these thoughts, can I pick up my UPS box sitting there on the front door? Can I go to my mailbox? Was the mailman sick? The more I think about it, the more I stir about it, the more it gets me going.”

For now, Jennifer’s dealer is still delivering, but she’s also worried her dealer will have to stop going outside. “I told her she needs to come to my house and lock down. Come quarantine with me.” For now, the risk for users isn’t necessarily whether there’s enough weed to go around, or whether that weed will be affordable — though, some people are reporting that their dealers are selling ounces for $300 and up, nonnegotiable. The concern is that eventually, people who sell cannabis products (namely ones in states where weed isn’t considered essential) will just stop offering pickup and drop-off. “As soon as I get my next check, I have a whole set-up ready to start growing my own,” Karen said. “I’m trying to get six plants growing [if] the stores shut down or the price of weed jump back up.”

Sarah uses weed to manage her symptoms from borderline personality disorder. “If I don’t have weed and we go on a LEGIT quarantine, I seriously might go crazy,” she wrote, adding that she’s concerned about how she might self-harm if she stopped using. But, of course, insofar as coronavirus-based fears go, this is tempered by one undeniably true fact about drugs — legal or not — that Sarah knows for sure: “Drugs keep going, no matter what’s happening.” ●

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