WORCESTER — Last year on April 20 at The Summit Lounge, a private marijuana club on Water Street, a local marijuana grower donated flower to share, painting classes were in full swing, and the club reached its capacity by about 2:30 p.m.
This year, on Monday 4/20 — “the national stoner holiday” as club owner Kyle Moon called it — only a couple of employees were at the shuttered club cleaning and painting.
“It is a far cry from what last year’s (4/20) was like, and the expectation of what this year’s would be,” Moon said in an interview Monday. He estimated that the club was losing several thousand dollars not being open Monday.
“And the tough part is, the real hard part is, Worcester isn’t a really summer oriented town… this springtime is when we try to get our nest egg up so we can sustain through the summer.”
While COVID-19 has shut down the recreational cannabis industry as non-essential business in the state, and social distancing has largely prohibited groups from gathering, marijuana businesses and users embraced a very different 4/20 than was expected just a few months ago.
Why is April 20 associated with marijuana?
“Everybody’s kind of wishing they could get out of the house today because it’s the big day,” said Bobby Nuggz, a cannabis advocate from Rhode Island.
Last year on 4/20, Nuggz was at The Summit Lounge helping launch the business Interpretasting, which Nuggz described as a craft cannabis tasting party. Nuggz said he had hoped to celebrate the anniversary of the business this year, but has moved the party online.
He expects the virtual smoking session will attract 25-75 viewers; but it’s not the same.
“It’s what we have to do now,” Nuggz said. “This pandemic puts such a damper on all the things we had planned.”
Jason Gideon agreed. He, too, had spent time Monday in virtual gatherings with industry folk and consumers.
“I normally do a lot of community events, and I expected to be out with the community today,” Gideon said. “In fact this is definitely not how I planned on spending my 4/20.”
Before the pandemic, the adult-use industry was just getting off its feet in Massachusetts.
The earliest recreational shops had been open a year, and the state reported a robust (and appropriate) $420 million in sales the first full year of legal recreational marijuana.
Many more businesses, including social justice applicants, were coming online, and a variety of businesses were emerging — from growing supply stores, to firms offering financial and professional services, to catering companies — in relation to the marijuana industry.
And 4/20 was a major day for recreational sales.
Last year, the 15 recreational stores open in the state for 4/20 racked up $1.24 million and $1.33 million in recreational sales on the Friday (April 12), and Saturday (April 13), respectively, before 4/20, the Boston Globe reported using information from the Cannabis Control Commission.
April 19 and April 20 of last year, consumers spent $1.6 million and $1.58 million, respectively, a week-over-week jump of 29 percent for Friday, and roughly 19 percent for Saturday, The Globe reported.
But coronavirus has changed things. This 4/20, with recreational marijuana dispensaries closed, legal recreational sales in the state will be zero.
And an increase in demand for medical marijuana — as medical dispensaries are still open — will not make up for it.
“We’ve seen a major reduction in overall customers since adult-use was banned,” Good Chemistry CEO Matthew Huron said in an email.
Good Chemistry operates a medical and recreational dispensary in the Canal District near The Summit Lounge.
“We have seen some increase in medical sales, but overall we’ve seen a major reduction in overall customers since adult-use was banned. It has become a bit easier for people to get their medical card, so that has helped some,” Huron said.
Huron added that the company assumed that overall sales would similarly decrease on 4/20.
“The global pandemic has impacted every business, and ours is no different,” Huron said. “Overall transactions have decreased significantly during this pandemic. We assume that would be true of (4/20) as well. We are looking forward to making progress and getting through this challenging time, and with that we are hopeful to see sales normalize in the future.”
And on what was expected to be one of the biggest days of the year, Moon reported worrying about making rent.
“We’ve been shut down now for a good month, and then it will be almost two if it goes to (May 5),” Moon said, noting that the cannabis community had started a raffle to raise money to help with the club’s rent.
“I can’t even think about if it gets extended.”