Summit County’s marijuana industry sees record year despite early pandemic scare
The local marijuana industry has rebounded strongly after struggling early on in the pandemic.
Numerous industries have felt the financial impacts of widespread closures as a result of the arrival of the novel coronavirus in Summit County in March, but dispensaries have weathered the storm better than most, in part due to their designation as essential — keeping them open while other businesses were forced to shut their doors.
But with shops, restaurants and ski areas closed throughout the county, the subsequent tourism drought initially stung dispensaries, as well. During March and April, the towns of Breckenridge, Frisco and Dillon saw a combined decline of more than $52,000 in revenue based on a 5% marijuana tax in each town. Silverthorne was unable to share marijuana-related tax information because it has only one dispensary in town, according to Silverthorne Director of Finance Laura Kennedy.
But as public health order restrictions began to loosen and visitors made their way back to the county over the summer, marijuana sales boomed.
“Through the month of April and into May, it was pretty quiet,” said Jacob Kelley, general manager at Organix marijuana dispensary in Breckenridge. “It was mostly just locals we were helping. But right after May, it picked right back up again, and all the tourists were coming to town. It was a pretty normal summer, really, as far as business goes. Since the ski season has started, it’s been nonstop around here. We’ve been as busy as ever.”
Kelley said Organix had 20-30 customers a day during the early shutdown but that numbers have returned to normal with 100-120 customers a day.
Tax revenue backs up the industry’s anecdotal bounce back, with Breckenridge, Frisco and Dillon all showing growth in 2020 despite dips in the spring. Marijuana tax revenue increase from about $635,000 in 2019 to about $699,700 in 2020 in Breckenridge, from $292,198 to $337,927 in Dillon and from $412,935 to $473,073 in Frisco.
Colorado as a whole also saw record marijuana sales with more than $2.1 billion in sales in 2020 compared with $1.7 billion in 2019.
Aaron Bluse, owner of Altitude Organic Cannabis in Dillon, said his business saw a revenue decrease of about 27% last year, partly due to closing down for a week in March to give his employees a break and to sanitize the store, followed by a 30-day period when the store sold only to locals. Bluse said business since has returned to normal but that he did notice some changes in customer behavior during the pandemic.
For the first couple of days after business closures initially were announced, Bluse said skiers deprived of the slopes and customers worried about potential dispensary closures flooded the store — 500-600 a day, which caused profits to soar 50% to 100% — to stock up. After the initial surge, once fears of potential dispensary closures subsided, Bluse said customers still chose to purchase in bulk with each visit.
“As we saw at camping sites and at the lake, everything was full, because that was a way to have a vacation, spend time with family and do it safely,” Bluse said. “A lot of people would come in and stock up for their trips, their camping and things they were doing within the state. That was definitely a big boost to business and helped tremendously. Just like RV sales and camper sales were through the roof, we followed the same trend.”
Bluse said sales increased 17% per person and that, throughout the year, longtime flower smokers were more willing to experiment with edibles, concentrates and other products they’d never tried before. Kelley also noted that marijuana smokers often turned to buying multiple prerolled joints so that groups wouldn’t have to share the same one.
“People were transitioning from alcohol and other things to cannabis and trying different things like drinks and edibles,” Bluse said. “… We definitely saw a higher consumption of things like concentrates, which are higher potency items. I feel that’s because people were looking for more value and also that people’s tolerance was getting a bit higher. People were experimenting with different parts of the market. Maybe a flower smoker did try out a vaporizer or maybe someone got an edible instead of going to get that bottle of wine.”
Other marijuana products like hemp and CBD, which don’t contain THC, were popular throughout the pandemic, as well. Tyler Lehmann, owner of Breckenridge Hemp Co., said the ability to sell and ship CBD products online has helped to raise sales, despite in-store purchases being down. Lehmann said his business tripled its sales in 2020 compared with previous years.
“It was a gigantic increase for us,” Lehmann said. “… We’re not getting the customers that we would normally have. People are doing online ordering. We’re shipping across the country and across the globe now. It’s been booming. … Black Friday was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. … Usually, I do a couple of internet orders a day. Black Friday we did a couple hundred orders in two days. …
“It’s recession proof. … People don’t have much to do other than recreate. They’re either going out and exercising or drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana. People are looking for another source of escape and help to relax, help to sleep, help with anxiety. Cannabis helps with all of that.”
Ultimately, people in the business felt that hefty marijuana sales throughout the pandemic helped to cement the industry’s status as essential and that the overall state of the industry was strong moving forward.
“We were deemed essential, one of the first in the country to receive that designation, and obviously the first time in history that cannabis has been deemed an essential function of society,” Bluse said. “It was a proud moment and vindicating moment for our industry. … Just like any business, we’ve had to deal with things we haven’t been faced with before, whether that’s dealing with restrictions that were present or making internal decisions while there wasn’t a lot of direction from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) or the state. … I commend our business and our industry in how nimble we’ve been to embrace and, hopefully in a lot of regards, lead the way with trying to operate in this new era.”
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