The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed to us a lot about what our society considers “essential.” Nobody debates the idea of markets being open, we all need to get food and toiletries, but a few businesses initially took people by surprise. Your local liquor store might not have seemed essential before a global pandemic brought society to a grinding halt, but it sure has proven to be, right? It’s easy to dismiss our individual vices as frivolous but let’s be real — sometimes you really need to take the edge off.
Enter cannabis. Federally prohibited since 1937 and classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance since 1970, the marijuana industry was in full bloom before the shutdown. Currently, marijuana is recreationally legal in 11 states, and medically legal in 33 others. It’s a wild shift, considering 10 years ago marijuana wasn’t recreationally legal anywhere. Under lockdown, most marijuana shops are still fully operational and moving more product than they ever have.
To get an inside look into this unique segment of essential work, we linked up with cannabis delivery driver Jeremy Branthoover as he geared up for 4/20. Jeremy services California’s Bay Area as a delivery driver for Caliva. In addition to delivery, Caliva was one of the first dispensaries in California to adapt to the state’s strict social distancing measures — which were first implemented in the Bay Area — by implementing a curbside pickup system and installing plexiglass walls inside their dispensaries to protect their budtenders and customers.
Jeremy has been a driver for Caliva since September 2019, and has been witness to pre and post COVID-19 workloads. He now pulls 12-hour shifts that keep him on the road nearly nonstop. We chatted over the phone about booming business, the changing reputation of cannabis, and the safety precautions that are keeping workers and customers safe during the long lockdown.
How do you feel about weed shops being deemed an essential business?
I mean, up until last year I was living in Pennsylvania where it’s pretty rigorously illegal, and I’ve always been an advocate of the product itself for the medicinal qualities. So I’m happy to see that it’s deemed an essential business during this period of quarantine or stay at home, because I think it does really provide an essential service for people that might be suffering from anxiety, depression, or insomnia — anything that the product itself could help alleviate, especially during this time because it’s adding to that stress of the individual.
What safety precautions are you and the dispensary taking to keep you and the customer safe?
Well, we’re taking numerous precautions. We have a stockpile of gloves for the drivers as well as sanitary wipes, screen wipes for your phone; even, masks, and if anyone is in the building itself, the facility, they’re required to wear a mask now as well as gloves at all times. I’ve noticed we have a safety manager now that has been walking around and double-checking on workstations, ensuring that everything is cleaned and sanitized every hour.
There’s actually sheets up in the clerking stations where the orders are packed, where a supervisory officer has to sign off every hour stating that they cleaned the station up with the sanitary wipes that we have. The safety manager has been coming around and double-checking on those sheets as well. That’s all new since this whole pandemic has kicked off.
From a driver perspective, in my car I always have an ample supply of wipes and gloves and I try to change the gloves in between orders where I’m touching money and having to handle cash, as well as at the beginning of the day I always wipe off my steering wheel, just keep my car clean and try to do the most I can as an individual to help.
Could you describe what the handoff situation is like typically with the customers?
Yeah, it’s subjective per the customer, but I’ve noticed during the whole social distancing order, some customers will have a like a stool or something set out already ready to go where I can put the bag down and they can leave their ID and cash so I could properly verify that it’s them. I can see them still while maintaining distance. They get their product and we stay safe the whole time doing so. Some customers will still come right up to the passenger window, not coming in my car obviously, but everyone has been staying very conscious of themselves I’ve noticed.
How are the tips, are you seeing an increase these days?
Yeah, definitely. Especially right around when this whole thing kicked off, customers are even saying “This is for you being out here during these times,” and I think that’s good, it gives everyone a good sense of gratitude and that they’re appreciated for what they’re doing.
Have you noticed any kind of wavering of people’s patience with social distancing itself?
Not really from my perspective because I feel like in most cases, given the nature of the product and everything, or when people are getting their delivery, they’re just grateful to be getting it during these times no matter what rules or precautions you have to follow. I haven’t had anyone be aggressive towards me about having to follow it. I mean if anything, I’ve had people be very stern on keeping distance and staying away during the whole time.
I’m myself a little tired of the whole thing, but I haven’t seen anyone taking it out on any individual who works on the road.
How many deliveries are you getting out through the day?
It’s steady throughout the whole day ever since this started. There was a huge influx right at the beginning, of course. Now even a couple of weeks after, since we’ve adapted to the whole thing, it’s still from 9:00 AM when we open till 9:00 PM when we close. Steady orders all day.
Have you noticed any changes in buying habits? I know in the beginning a lot of people were stocking up or hoarding. Are people buying a larger volume, or has it normalized over the weeks?
I feel it has started to normalize over the weeks, but definitely I’ve noticed there’s still just huge orders coming in throughout the day of all types of different products. It’s hard to classify what’s hoarding or what’s not in this business, but I’ve definitely been seeing more orders with just a larger amount of products, from flower to drinks or anything that we sell.
Is there anything that customers should keep in mind to make your job easier and safer?
I just feel obeying this whole social distance thing that has been put out is our best bet. Just not coming and trying to stick your arm in the car or something. Show me your ID, just be patient. Wait till I get out of the vehicle. Stay doing what you’re doing with the whole social distancing thing and we’ll be good.
Do you have any buying advice for people ahead of 4/20?
I would say if you have products that you have in mind that you want to purchase, don’t wait until the hour before you want them. I would just be conscious that there will probably be an influx of orders.
How long does the typical delivery take from the moment a person orders at peak hours?
As far as the Bay, San Francisco, Palo Alto where we operate out of, I would give us a three-hour window. At the busiest times throughout the day would it would be three hours. Most orders we’re still getting out within two.