Weed in the Time of Coronavirus
How Michigan's newest industry is adjusting to the COVID-19 panic.
By Patrick Sullivan | March 21, 2020
Recreational marijuana shops have only just started opening up around Michigan in recent months, most of them downstate.
But near to Traverse City, two recreational pot businesses have opened their doors, both of them in Benzie County: Great Lakes Natural Remedies Inc., in Benzonia, and Lume, in Honor.
But just as these pioneers got up and running, they had to face the same kind of existential threat looming over all businesses in this time of Coronavirus.
(Of course, they happen to sell a product that’s proving popular in these uncertain times: A sales rep at Lume said last week Wednesday that the store had completely sold out of recreational edible products — apparently something a lot of people wanted to stock up on as they face indefinite sheltering in place.)
That same day, Northern Express chatted over the phone with the president and COO of Lume, Doug Hellyar, about how the company is adapting and what he expects for the near future.
Northern Express: How has this crisis impacted your industry so far?
Doug Hellyar: Well, I can really just comment on how it’s impacted Lume, but my guess is the rest of the industry is probably having a similar experience. Actually, business is robust. We’ve had consistent sales at all of our six locations where we’re operational. We’ve been operating the same hours. The state — the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency — has been very proactive, and they’re taking action to help us promote in-store pickup, home delivery, and curbside pickup. And at Lume, we’re offering a 10 percent discount for delivery, for customers that are picking up curbside, or for express checkout in store.
Express: What’s the rationale for that?
Hellyar: We just want to provide an economic incentive for patients and adult-use customers to have access to the product while minimizing human contact.
Express: That makes sense. What measures have you taken in the stores to make them safer places?
Hellyar: We have a full list of preventive procedures that we’ve implemented in response to the Covid-19 virus. All of those are listed on our website. Some of the highlights include — we’ve increased efforts to maintain the cleanliness of our stores, including developing a regular schedule for disinfecting all surfaces in our stores; all of our associates are required to wear gloves when servicing customers, and that includes in-store interaction, curbside pickup, as well as home delivery; and customers are no longer allowed to pick up the containers that hold our flower samples in store. They like to be able to see the product up close, they like to smell the product, but for obvious reasons, we’ve discontinued that practice. In certain locations where we have smaller floorspace in-store, we’re limiting the number of customers that we have in both the waiting room and on the sales floor. If traffic exceeds that, we’re asking customers to sign in, they return to their vehicle, and then we send them a text and tell them when it’s their turn to enter the store.
Express: I’ve read that the state of the world is causing people to turn to marijuana now more than they would otherwise. In California, when a lockdown was announced, there was a run on marijuana stores.
Hellyar: Last weekend for example, we experienced record sales. And we believe it’s a combination of our medical patients who are concerned about having continued access to the product, making sure that they have ample supply, and adult-use customers, who are coming in in large numbers and buying the full range of our products. We’re seeing that in the numbers, what you said.
Express: I know that your company has been aggressively opening new stores and spreading across the state. Has the coronavirus crisis interrupted that?
Hellyar: To this point we have not seen any delays. We now have a full license for adult use and medical at the Walled Lake location [in Metro Detroit] where we are planning to open in the coming days. We see nothing that will prevent that from opening based on the situation as it stands today. And this morning, the state — as they promised to the citizens of Michigan — they are turning around delivery license applications within 24 hours. That was the case for our Walled Lake location, so as of this morning we were awarded a delivery license for that location, and when we open within the next few days, we’ll be able to offer delivery from day one, to both medical patients and qualified adult-use customers.
Express: You’ve started making deliveries from your Honor location, including to Traverse City. Has that been very popular?
Hellyar: Traverse City makes up the large majority of deliveries that we’ve made from our Honor location. As word spreads of our delivery capability, combined with the 10 percent discount that we’re offering on home deliveries, we are seeing a daily increase in the demand for home delivery. It’s picking up every day.
Express: Elsewhere, in other countries and other states, places reach a point where the authorities decide the population needs to be locked down, and non-essential businesses are ordered to close. Do you expect marijuana stores will be considered essential or non-essential stores if that occurs?
Hellyar: What we would foresee is that our provisioning centers would be seen as important to remain open, for the top priority, which is to serve the medical patients of Michigan. We don’t foresee that changing, based on conditions as they stand today. But this is a very fluid environment, and we are managing it on a day-to-day basis and following the guidelines of the state of Michigan. The most recent executive order to close down bars and restaurants, that did not apply to our business. The conversations that we’ve had have been around how we can continue to maintain the supply of product to the medical patients and the customers. We’ve not had any discussions about closures.
Express: Is your production facility running as usual?
Hellyar: Our cultivation facility in Evart, Michigan, remains fully operational. As everyone has been encouraged to do, we’ve just enhanced the already very strict controls we have, the hygiene controls and the procedures we follow. We have taken some steps to spread out our labor hours over the full 24 hours so that we can achieve social distancing objectives, just like the rest of the country is pursuing. But the amount of product that we’re harvesting each week has not been impacted at all. Supply is plentiful, and we foresee that continuing.
Express: How about you? How are you doing with all of this stuff?
Hellyar: Well, we’re remaining positive. We know that this situation will pass. And at Lume, we are all focused on maintaining the supply of products to our medical patients and following the guidelines of the state of Michigan, monitoring what’s happening in the rest of the world, and making sure that we’re moving quickly to adjust and making sure that we’re following the directions of the local authorities and doing what we believe is best.