April 20th (or 4/20) is a day cherished by cannabis users around the world as a reason to consume with friends and attend rallies, concerts, and festivals in celebration. What was once a ritual started by a group of high school students in the 1970s has become a mainstream, commercialized holiday, used by cannabis companies as an opportunity to promote the industry and its products. And this year – 2020 – presents the once-every-century opportunity of month-long celebrations; 4/20, as in April, the fourth month, of the year 2020 (you get it, right?).
But in a time of uncertainty as the coronavirus continues to threaten public safety in the United States and around the world, what does this mean for this once counterculture holiday? Can your business engage in previously scheduled 4/20 activities, events, or promotions when federal social distancing guidelines were extended until April 30th? Let’s take a look.
Cannabis in the Time of the Coronavirus
During this global pandemic, patients, consumers, and industry members are weary of the state of the industry. However, medical dispensaries (and, in many cases, recreational dispensaries) are considered essential services in most states. Therefore, many dispensaries have remained open and are offering curbside pickup or delivery to cannabis patients and consumers across the country.
The industry initially saw spikes in recreational cannabis sales in the weeks since coronavirus hit America. However, it appears that not even the cannabis industry is safe from the current economic downturn. According to Marijuana Business Daily, recreational cannabis sales in Colorado between Friday, March 27 and Sunday, March 29 were down 47% compared to the same weekend in 2019.
Aside from sporadic retail sales, the cannabis industry has found an opportunity to help in this crisis. Some companies, including Revolutionary Clinics and Care by Design, have refocused their efforts into producing hand sanitizer to combat the hand sanitizer shortage, using ingredients and packaging once used to make cannabis extracts and skin creams. Furthermore, cultivators are donating pest control gowns to be used by healthcare workers at local hospitals, and retailers are donating percentages of sales to charities providing protective equipment for healthcare workers.
Postponements and Cancellations – The Impact of the Coronavirus on 4/20 Events
Although it seems benign or perhaps even shallow to worry about 4/20 events when people are falling ill and dying in large numbers all around the world, putting cannabis culture on hold is unfortunate for both consumers and industry members alike. 4/20 is more than just a fun opportunity to consume cannabis with others in a public setting. It’s a symbolic movement with a colorful history, from being an opportunity to protest against broader systemic problems in the US to a chance to push a political agenda centered around cannabis decriminalization and legalization.
Historically, 4/20 celebrations have ranged from concerts to policy conferences to competitions to business expositions. In addition to the US, destinations that hold major 4/20 celebrations include Australia, London, Canada, Amsterdam, Scotland, and even North Korea. Well-known 4/20 events that have been canceled due to the coronavirus include, but are not limited to:
- 420 at Hippie Hill
- Mile High 420 Festival
- Sweetwater 420 Fest
- NOLA Cannabis Festival
- Austin Reggae Fest
- Baltimore Cannabis Relief Festival
Ways Cannabis Businesses Can Celebrate 4/20 During this Global Coronavirus Pandemic
If your company was planning on hosting 4/20 celebrations, sponsoring 4/20 events, or offering 4/20 promotions, you will have to reconsider your plans. And unfortunately, money may be lost. However, that does not mean you have to cancel 4/20 altogether. Furthermore, this may be an opportunity to get creative and engage in unique marketing efforts that the industry has not seen before.
Consider reaching your audience in the following ways:
- Curating virtual opportunities.
- Giving away cannabis accessories and swag (as permitted).
- Discounting products (as permitted).
- Using social media in new and innovative ways.
Customer engagement opportunities could come in the form of virtual concerts, online joint-rolling classes, and online networking events. Lightshade, a Simplifya client and a vertically-integrated, Denver-based cannabis company, is leading the charge when it comes to shifting 4/20 celebrations, with an innovative virtual 420 party, that includes a free live-stream of DJs, such as Beat Gypsy and DJ Wushu, and a chat-room. Silver Stem, another Simplifya client and a vertically integrated, multi-state cannabis operator, is hosting a virtual 4/20 happy hour with its very own digital bartender.
While some companies will be pursuing product promotions and virtual celebrations for 4/20, many will be doing the exact opposite in response to the coronavirus. In a press release published on March 31st, Boulder-based, vertically-integrated cannabis company Terrapin Care Station announced that it will postpone all activities related to 4/20 in order to encourage social distancing during these uncertain times. “We understand that 420 is a time of celebration for all that we have accomplished in our efforts to end cannabis prohibition. But there is a bigger battle at our doorsteps today, and we must do our part to control the spread of this deadly virus. We hope that by suspending 4/20-related marketing, people will be encouraged to social distance this April,” says Christopher Woods, chief executive of Terrapin Care Station.
Keeping Stakeholders Safe During 4/20
Cannabis companies have a responsibility to keep their employees, consumers, and other stakeholders safe. This can come in the form of strong and transparent communications, educating consumers on safe cannabis use, and making facilities as safe as possible for consumers and employees alike.
Over-communication is not something to be worried about right now. Make clear to employees their job statuses and changes to their job duties in response to the coronavirus. Let shareholders know of the company’s position going into this profitable day. Share with consumers how they can safely purchase and consume cannabis products. Promote cannabis bogarting, a traditionally frowned upon practice in the stoner community, but essential to keeping healthy during times like these.
In terms of managing a safe and sanitary facility during high volume times, such as 4/20, consider utilizing retractable belt barrier posts or caution tape to designate distances of six feet within the dispensary. Make hand sanitizer and handwashing facilities available to consumers and restrict customers to the lobby or waiting area. If conducting curbside deliveries, use parking cones to space out vehicles and control traffic in your store’s parking lot. Keep up-to-date with all published guidelines related to cannabis businesses and the coronavirus to ensure you are staying compliant as 4/20 approaches.
This Was Supposed to be the April of 4/20
April 2020 was going to be legendary. An entire month of 4/20 laid open the path of opportunity, awareness and incredible revenue potential. Instead, this year, 4/20 will definitely be memorable, but not for reasons we had hoped or envisioned. Events cherished by the cannabis community have been canceled and the culture of puff-puff-pass is on hold for the near future. Financial markets have crashed and society as we know it is adjusting to a new “normal.” But if there is one thing the cannabis industry is used to, it is uncertainty. Creativity and ingenuity in the face of adversity are certainly nothing new to the cannabis community. This might not be the 4/20 we all had in mind, but if cannabis companies are able to continue to reach their consumers and promote safe and sanitary practices, 4/20 in the time of the coronavirus will signify the strength of the industry, and the integral part it now plays in our community and economy.