Take a peek inside Matt Eli’s fridge and you’ll see a scant selection of items: limes, apples, a few carrots...and giant bag after giant bag of weed.
While many Canadians have been frantically buying toilet paper and beans in preparation for coronavirus-related lockdown, Eli stocked up on cannabis.
But he didn’t just grab a couple of ounces—he purchased 2 pounds of weed for $2,700 from a grower friend, in addition to the half pound he had lying around the house. That’s enough for more than 3,500 joints—a joint a day for nine-and-a-half years.
“I’m a weed hoarder,” said Eli, a 40-something who lives in a small B.C. town where he runs a contracting business. “I love weed and don’t want to run out and I don’t want to worry about rationing.”
As Canadians hunker down indefinitely in an attempt to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus transmission, many are buying, growing, and selling legal and black market cannabis to entertain themselves and, in some cases, earn extra income to counter job loss brought on by the pandemic. Legal weed sales are spiking. Ontario Cannabis Store said it saw a 100 percent increase in online orders Sunday, up from the previous week. But sales could dry up if more retail stores shut down, or delivery services feel it’s too risky to keep interacting with customers.
For Surrey, B.C. writer Kevin (not his real name), 39, the demand for cannabis presents an entrepreneurial opportunity.
Kevin’s main source of income for the past year has been renting a suite in his house for $150 a night on Airbnb. While the suite is normally booked solid, that ended abruptly as news of COVID-19 grew more serious.
“I’m gonna be the Heisenberg of Surrey.”
Unbeknownst to his Airbnb guests, Kevin has been quietly growing cannabis “as a hobby” in a room upstairs in his home for more than a year. He said his sativa strain is “high quality” and energetic enough to “replace people’s cocaine habits.”
While he promised himself he’d never sell it, the coronavirus outbreak has changed that.
“I’m breaking bud,” he said, noting his next harvest should yield a pound of weed, which he hopes to sell for around $175 an ounce. “I’m gonna be the Heisenberg of Surrey.”
Meanwhile, people are out in droves to buy weed from both legal and legacy retailers.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before. Now I know how liquor stores feel on St. Patrick's Day,” said Mike Babins, co-owner of Evergreen Cannabis, a legal weed shop in Vancouver.
Babins said customers are regularly maxing out their 30-gram legal purchasing limit. In an effort to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, only five people are allowed in the store at a time, and no one can touch or smell the sample weed jars anymore.
Babins said he’s not worried about the supply of cannabis running low, nor does he think stores will be ordered to shut down in B.C.
Already, Canopy Growth has shut down 23 Tweed and Tokyo Smoke retail stores across the country; P.E.I. is closing its government-run cannabis stores to increase social distancing.
Saskatchewan and Manitoba are the only provinces that allow private retailers to offer delivery services. Everywhere else, customers need to order through the provincial government and Canada Post.
The Ontario Cannabis Store said Canada Post is no longer making in-person deliveries, which means customers will have to pick up their orders from the post office—an accessibility issue for people who are sick or have disabilities. The OCS said same-day and next day delivery options are available, but limited.
Of course there are plenty of same-day delivery options on the black market.
"If I had to pick between toilet paper and weed, I’d prefer to have weed.”
Vancouver-based cannabis activist Dana Larsen said he shut down his unlicensed dispensary in response to the pandemic. Prior to closing it last week, he said customers started buying so much weed he had to implement a 2-ounce limit per person.
His delivery service has also been much busier than normal.
“Everybody’s gonna need cannabis for trying times,” he said. “I know if I had to pick between toilet paper and weed, I’d prefer to have weed.”
Despite the demonstrable increase in demand, the legal cannabis industry is grappling with how to manage potential layoffs and crop loss if mandated social isolation continues.
“If we are obligated to go into a full lockdown where people cannot attend their jobs then what we will see is large-scale crop loss throughout the industry and then to ramp back up… will probably take three to six months,” said Dan Sutton, the CEO of B.C.-based licensed producer Tantalus Lab.
He said 30 percent of Tantalus’ workforce can’t work from home. For now, he said all employees who may have come in contact with someone with COVID-19 are being told to stay home, with pay. But he said the company doesn’t have the resources to sustain that on a long- term basis, which could mean layoffs. He is hoping the federal government will help, but so far the Business Development Bank of Canada has said it won’t work with the cannabis sector.
“Unless we are provided with some form of relief... then we’ll be facing the really difficult decision: do we want our people to be safe and healthy, or we do want them to keep their jobs?” he said.
Even so, Sutton said there’s enough legal cannabis supply to last until at least the end of the year.
Supply won’t be an issue for Eli, who spent about a grand on a rosin press and a bubble hash maker to make his own weed concentrates with some of that 2.5 pound stash. He has also four cannabis plants. He typically smokes six or seven joints a day.
"It's just a comfort thing for me to have an abundance."
Asked why he needs what can accurately be described as a commercial quantity of weed, he said it relaxes him.
“It’s just a comfort thing for me to have an abundance around,” he said, noting he’ll probably go through his weed in three months, selling some to friends on a casual basis.
He said he likes the ruminating that sometimes accompanies getting high.
“I start getting that paranoid feeling and start thinking about all the problems in the world. I think that’s hugely beneficial.”
At a time like this, there’s certainly no shortage of problems to think about.