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Months After Coronavirus Shutdown, Mass. Pot Shops Say Business Is Steady04:56
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In this June 24, 2020, photograph, customers wait in line at Pure Oasis, a Black-owned recreational marijuana dispensary, in the Grove Hall neighborhood of Boston. Many from outside Boston have recently shopped and supported the store which was robbed and vandalized earlier in the month. (Charles Krupa/AP)
In this June 24, 2020, photograph, customers wait in line at Pure Oasis, a Black-owned recreational marijuana dispensary, in the Grove Hall neighborhood of Boston. Many from outside Boston have recently shopped and supported the store which was robbed and vandalized earlier in the month. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Boston's long-awaited first pot shop, Pure Oasis, was open for just two weeks when it was forced to shut down. That was back in March — and co-owner Kobie Evans was disappointed, to say the least.

"It's very tough, but, I mean, there's daylight and, you know, hopefully, it'll only last couple of weeks and then we can be back on track," Evans said at the time.

The shutdown ended up lasting two months for pot shops. Pure Oasis reopened in May, and things are going well, according to Evans.

"Overall, we are doing good business," he said recently. "We're happy."

It's been more than four months since Massachusetts allowed pot shops to reopen, after many businesses were shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak. Recreational marijuana retailers say business has come back since then, but some challenges remain.

Because Pure Oasis opened just before the shutdown, Evans said he doesn't have much to compare his current sales to. But he said he sees a few hundred customers a day who come from all over the city. And Evans said he's still on track with his long-term goal of opening more locations.

"With businesses, you know, unfortunately not being able to survive, there is more retail space available," Evans said. "So unfortunately, that's a silver lining for us. It didn't work out for some people, but it makes it a little easier for us."

Overall, the state's marijuana businesses have generated $273 million in sales since reopening roughly four months ago, according to data from the Cannabis Control Commission, which oversees the state's marijuana industry. That's a bit more than the $217 million in sales that were generated in the four months prior to the shutdown. Of course, it's worth noting there are more pot shops open now.

And businesses say there's a lot of pent up demand for cannabis.

"We're seeing more and more and more people turn to cannabis for relief, for symptom relief and management, for stress relief, you know, during these crazy COVID times," said Amanda Rositano, the president of New England Treatment Access.

Rositano said the company is seeing a steady clip of customers at its locations in Brookline and Northampton, but business isn't back to where it was before the shutdown.

"Business is still down to some extent, just by the very nature of of the COVID crisis," Rositano said. "We're restricted in terms of how many people we can have in our store at one point in time. So, that's made it difficult to really be able to serve all the folks that need this medicine."

The state's emerging cannabis industry also faces another challenge: product shortage. David Torrisi of the Commonwealth Dispensary Association said that's due to a backlog in testing.

"The biggest issue remains the turnaround times on testing," Torrisi said. "We still only have two labs in the state, and we're having turnaround times of up to three or four weeks now. And that is a huge issue."

Torrisi said Massachusetts also has higher prices for marijuana than other states where it’s legal, and many people are still buying from the illicit market.

"So having more stores, having lower prices are still the goals," Torrisi said. "More competition is good for the industry."

One thing that has been good for some in the industry was the surge in people getting medical marijuana cards early in the pandemic when recreational pot shops were closed.

"That was huge," said Ellen Rosenfeld, the president of CommCan, which sells recreational and medical marijuana. "People took advantage, and they got their medical cards, and it saved us. I can't say more than that. It saved us."

CommCan has locations in Millis and Southborough. Rosenfeld said her sales are back to where they were before the pandemic, and that's largely due to medical marijuana sales, which now make up a bigger chunk of her business.

"So, those increased sales really carried us through those two months and allowed us to continue building out the second phase of our cultivation facility," Rosenfeld said. "It really funded that second phase, which blew my mind."

More people were able to get medical marijuana cards because the Cannabis Control Commission made it easier to do so. Early in the pandemic, the commission allowed medical providers to certify new patients using telehealth.

The commission also allowed pot shops to do curbside pickup, which some businesses continue to rely on now. And both of these things may have staying power, said the commission's executive director, Shawn Collins.

"I think the use of telehealth is something that Massachusetts has a really strong history of, and now fitting into this cannabis space, I think there's definitely some some long term viability with that," Collins said at a recent event hosted by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. "And I think the use of curbside pickup certainly has a long-term viability."

That's likely welcome news for the cannabis industry as the pandemic stretches on and continues to impact consumer habits and retailers.

This segment aired on October 8, 2020.

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Zeninjor Enwemeka Twitter Reporter
Zeninjor Enwemeka is a reporter who covers business, tech and culture as part of WBUR's Bostonomix team, which focuses on the innovation economy.

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