Changing Habits: How Cannabis Executives Have Adapted During COVID-19

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Image: Deliris / Shutterstock.com

Survival within the cannabis industry has always required adaptability. Typically this has been through successfully navigating the quickly shifting political and social winds. But now, how we define success seems to have taken on an entirely new meaning. We spoke with four companies for a two-part installment in our new “Changing Habits” series to examine how businesses and employees are responding to the coronavirus crisis. Check back next week for the second installment.

Noted jazz musician Duke Ellington once said, “a problem is a chance for you to do your best.” George Sadler, president at Platinum, holds the same philosophy. He is sensitive to the problems we are all dealing with but does see some unique opportunities to improve operations and the work environment. “COVID-19 has made us as adaptable as ever,” Sadler told mg. “Our team has the right to choose if they want to come into work or not and if they do come to work, we make sure they are as comfortable as possible.”

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This adaptability also extends to business operations. “We know this crisis is not going away overnight,” Sadler said. “We have to be prepared for this as a company.”

Platinum is working hard to strike deals that will allow the company to keep its product prices affordable for customers and patients. “We are doing everything we can to work through this with everyone—vendors, employees, and customers,” Sadler said. “Because we’re in multiple states, we have to react on a different level and provide solutions for all of our different markets and their demographics.”

Although face-to-face interaction between providers and consumers has been a staple of the cannabis industry’s approach to compassion and safe access, it simply may not be possible during the pandemic. Ocean Cannabis Company Founder Mary Beth Ersig has had to alter her company’s approach while still trying to maintain a connection with customers and patients. 

“As a family run business, we have certainly had to make some necessary adjustments,” Ersig said. “We essentially had to move everything to delivery.”

While delivery drop-offs may seem less personal than in-store consultation, Ocean is making every effort to keep its personal connections intact during the crisis. “My son and daughter, who also work for the company in distribution, are still out there making sure all of our customers continue to have access to medicine,” Ersig said.

Of course, a shift in distribution is not the only concern on Ersig’s mind. Running a family business offers both benefits and obstacles. “I am grateful we are able to continue to run our business, but as a mother, I can’t help but worry about their safety.”

While a typical day for Ersig would normally be filled with driving across Southern California to conduct budtender training sessions and to meet with dispensary managers, COVID-19 prevents this. Ersig is taking the newly acquired free time to maximize her impact, right from her home. “I have begun training to be a crisis counselor with Crisis Text Line, a nonprofit offering 24/7 support to anyone experiencing any kind of personal distress,” she said.

Envirocann is balancing new opportunities while still providing certification services in three states. A large component of the company’s work cannot be done remotely as personnel need to be physically present before certifying a cannabis operation. 

“Site inspections with our clients are scheduled on a case by case basis and, in general, have minimal contact with people,” Envirocann Founder Ian Rice told mg. “During any inspection, we are taking extra precautions to social distance our staff and appropriately maintain no contact with other individuals.”

Although inspectors are still operating in the field, the coronavirus has forced much of Envirocann’s staff to adopt new work procedures as well as new ideas. “Our sales, admin, and executive team in Santa Cruz are primarily responsible, working from home and developing new and exciting projects for the community like our upcoming podcast ‘Cleaner than Your Vegetables’ and new and advanced marketing push,” said Rice.

For many patients, a lack of safe access to cannabis represents more than a mere inconvenience. Fortunately, many local governments have realized this and have classified cannabis providers as essential businesses. But without a reliable supply chain, what good can be accomplished by keeping dispensaries open? Lowell Farms is working to provide essential medicine to dispensaries during COVID-19. 

“As cannabis companies have been designated essential businesses during the crisis, our production and distribution teams have been working diligently to ensure our products are available to our retail and delivery partners, and ultimately, for our customers,” a Lowell representative told mg.

Lowell also has made changes to its production process in order to create a safe environment for employees and to reduce physical interactions. “Following CDC guidelines on social distancing, our production and distribution teams have split into additional shifts in order to maintain safe distancing, and despite the chaos on the outside, it’s really been inspiring to see our company come together in solidarity and create products for people who need them.”

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