Marijuana sales may have been immune to the coronavirus pandemic, but headlines this year certainly weren't. Looking back at our most popular stories of 2020, we found breaking news pieces about public-health orders and dispensary closures, reports of federal stimulus checks spurring weed sales, and budtender observations about their jobs during COVOD-19 concerns.
There was marijuana news outside of the pandemic, though, and readers took notice. Tales of pot shop history and scoops about new brands also stirred interest this year, as did business stories announcing large takeovers of well-known dispensary chains.
Here are Westword
's ten most-read marijuana stories of 2020:
As part of a citywide stay-at-home order to limit the spread of coronavirus during the early days of the pandemic, on March 23 Mayor Michael Hancock's administration announced that recreational marijuana dispensaries and liquor stores would be among the businesses that must close that day, and remain closed for over two weeks, in order to discourage large gatherings of people. So what did the people do immediately after the announcement? Gather in large groups to get marijuana and liquor. The city's interpretation of Hancock's original executive order deemed that liquor stores and recreational pot shops weren't essential, but they seemed pretty essential to panicking customers. Hancock clarified his order within hours
, and dispensaries and liquor stores are both now considered essential businesses.
The legal marijuana industry may be new to most of the country, but it's already old enough in Denver for us to look back on the early days. And as the industry matures, some familiar names from those days have disappeared. For a quick walk down marijuana memory lane, we listed eight dispensary chains that once looked destined for expansion, only to be consumed by deep pockets, poor planning or criminal behavior.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis, seen here visiting a dispensary, has issued numerous executive orders related to marijuana during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Denver's mayor wasn't the only elected official who quickly backtracked on marijuana rules during the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In March, Governor Jared Polis issued an executive order that recreational dispensaries across the state would have to close for in-person sales for two weeks and convert to curbside operations only. Polis reversed the decision days later
, though, and allowed recreational pot shops to remain open for in-person shopping.
Self-quarantines and sitting at home because of coronavirus concerns will lead many of us to break out the bong, but our resident Stoner advised marijuana users to keep those smoking utensils to themselves (mouthpieces are natural resting places for germs, and can still carry them even after being wiped down with alcohol). However, a reader comment on this issue generated the most buzz; according to one commenter, a registered nurse, pot smokers can be at even higher risk for COVID-19.
Customers wait to enter the new Cookies dispensary in November.
Official Cookies strains have been available in Colorado since May through a licensing deal with another grower, but the first Cookies dispensary finally opened in November. Located on South Broadway's Green Mile, the new Cookies store had inspired long lines
of excited customers before the doors opened on the first day, and the store had stayed full since.
Tourists visiting Colorado are a big part of the state's marijuana economy, and some of them end up tossing out their leftover vacation weed at the airport, a few of which have special boxes for marijuana disposal. Although Denver International Airport doesn't have marijuana amnesty boxes, the next-largest airport in the state does. According to Colorado Springs airport officials, the boxes were rolled out in 2014, and collected a total of 17,003 grams of marijuana through the end of 2019. Aspen-Pitkin County Airport also has marijuana amnesty boxes; it started with one in 2014 but eventually increased to three because of how full the bins were getting.
Whether you agree with the rules or not, people are always looking for somewhere outside of their homes to smoke weed. This happened before the pandemic, it's happening during the pandemic (even though the vast majority of pot-friendly events and establishments are closed during COVID-19's winter wave), and it will happen after the pandemic.
The Green Solution, one of Colorado's largest dispensary chains, announced that it was going to be purchased by a publicly traded company in 2019.
Courtesy of the Green Solution
A Denver budtender and standup comedian wants dispensary shoppers to act right during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that includes practicing social distancing, pre-ordering before visiting the store, and tipping your budtender.
The Green Solution, one of Colorado's largest dispensary chains, first agreed to be acquired by Columbia Care Inc., a publicly traded company based in New York, in 2019. The deal — $110 million in Columbia Care stock, $15 million in cash and $15 million in senior loans for 23 TGS dispensaries and six growing operations — was expected to take place in early 2020, but that projection was pushed back to the year's second quarter, which ended June 30, and then pushed back again. As several other announced marijuana acquisitions disappeared in 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic brought financial uncertainty to the stock market, questions about the future of the TGS deal began to emerge. Those questions were answered in September, however, when the deal officially closed.
The marijuana industry didn't receive any official federal aid from business bailout packages (and probably won't in future federal legislation), but it did receive some help thanks to April's round of national stimulus payments, just in time for the 4/20 holiday. According to dispensary ordering platform I Heart Jane, 1,300-plus dispensaries across the country saw an average 48 percent increase in sales dollars on April 15, compared to an average weekday. According to Flowhub, another dispensary data tracker, recreational sales in Colorado were up 57 percent and medical marijuana sales up 39 percent on April 15 compared to the prior Wednesday.
What were your favorite marijuana stories this year? Send suggestions to [email protected]