The move to curbside recreational cannabis was included as part of an executive order that Polis issued on March 22 directing all of Colorado’s non-critical workplaces to cut in-person staff in half (the rest must work at home) to limit the spread of coronavirus. Although dispensaries are considered critical under the Polis order, there are some strings attached, with recreational sales limited to online pre-orders or orders made outside the store, for curbside pick-up.
And Polis's order doesn't apply in Denver, a home-rule city, where Mayor Michael Hancock has just ordered all rec dispensaries to stay closed altogether until April 10. MMJ stores can stay open in Denver but must observe best practices for public safety.
The wording of the Polis order was vague regarding marijuana, listing dispensaries as a critical business "but only for medical or curbside delivery," leaving some dispensaries wondering how exactly to interpret those instructions. However, the general consensus is that pot shops will have to start curbside retail operations tomorrow and continue operating that way for the next several weeks, while medical dispensaries can remain open, but should increase social distancing efforts and encourage patients to use curbside ordering as well.
For the time being, recreational dispensary customers can either pre-order their marijuana online — most stores will still require cash payment, but some are allowing credit or debit-card payments online — or visit a dispensary storefront, then order and wait outside. On top of remaining open for now, medical dispensaries are also allowed to apply for delivery permits, with one store in Boulder currently holding the only active delivery permit in the state, though more are expected to apply.
Until last week, curbside dispensary pick-ups were banned by state law, but then temporarily allowed by an earlier executive order from Polis. Since he made that directive, many stores had already been encouraging customers to pre-order or wait curbside for their purchases to limit human interaction, giving store owners and managers a sense of what's to come.
According to Brent McDonald, marketing director for dispensary chain Apothecary Farms, dispensaries had already begun to see the side effects of limiting the number of customers allowed inside, but the changes are for the good of public health.
"I'm all for it, with the agreement that we need to do whatever we can to flatten this curve and not overwhelm these hospitals," he says. "I definitely don't agree with fully closing the dispensaries during these trying times. Having access to this medicine, whether it be recreational or medical, is super-important right now."
Before Polis's most recent order, Apothecary Farms was letting one customer into the shopping area and one into the lobby at a time, asking customers to wait in their cars until their turn. McDonald says the store has served fewer customers as a result, and also seen would-be customers leave because of long lines.
Then again, he notes that the stores did "20 to 40 percent" more in volume per day over the last week, though he doesn't see that rate of bulk purchasing as sustainable.
Now, McDonald says, he's working quickly to get the inventory for all three of his stores uploaded onto an online ordering platform. "It takes some time to get set up in that platform, considering that we have hundreds and hundreds of products," he explains. "That will limit transactions as well. But at this point in time, I'm less worried about transactions being limited and more concerned with keep our staff, customers and patients safe."
Although Polis's order to keep dispensaries open as other businesses shut down is in line with decisions made in other states and large cities with legal marijuana, he does have the rare distinction of closing in-person retail sales.
Update: This story has been updated to incorporate how new stay-at-home rules announced by Mayor Michael Hancock affect dispensaries in Denver.