Lompoc cannabis industry feeling the effects — good and bad — of coronavirus pandemic
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Lompoc cannabis industry feeling the effects — good and bad — of coronavirus pandemic

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Curbside pickup, delivery options and special deals are just some of the ways Lompoc’s burgeoning cannabis industry is adapting to an unprecedented economic landscape that has forced a lot of in-person commerce to go up in smoke.

Multiple Lompoc dispensaries have reported increased business amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the news hasn’t all been positive.

Some shops have had to lay off employees and/or reduce staff hours, and some ancillary workers are losing out on opportunities, but many of those within the industry have remained optimistic that the negative impacts won’t be long-term.

Elevate Lompoc is among the dispensaries that has seen a boost in business. Kristine Bates, a registered nurse and the company’s general manager, suggested that the rise in cannabis purchases is directly tied to an overall increase in anxiety among people who are growing weary of isolation as the coronavirus crisis continues.

“I believe people have anxieties about the current social distancing environment,” Bates said, noting that increased consumption could ultimately lift the business’s bottom line, even in the current climate. “We are social creatures by nature, so having a way to deal with anxieties or boredom without turning to potentially harmful or negative ways is a good thing.”

With so many people and industries struggling amid widespread shelter-at-home orders, several of Lompoc’s dispensaries are offering discounts and deals to draw in customers.

Among them, Elevate Lompoc is offering storewide 25% discounts for as long as the stay-at-home orders are in effect, and The Roots Dispensary is offering 30% off its entire selection. Many shops are also offering curbside pickup and/or delivery options in an effort to maintain social distancing.

Perhaps no existing Lompoc cannabis business has been as impacted as the Lotus River dispensary, which opened for business in early March — around the same time that COVID-19 began to spread across the country.

Tracy Brenner, owner of Lotus River, is grateful she opened before the widespread shelter-at-home orders, but she acknowledged it hasn’t been easy to grow a business during a pandemic.

“I'm sure it is slower than it normally would be, but I can tell you we do see an increase week after week from the last,” she said, noting that her biggest challenge has been getting the word out that Lotus River is open.

Lotus River is among the dispensaries that does not offer delivery, but Brenner is encouraging curbside pickup, which she said can be completed in as safe a manner as possible. She is also giving away drinks and personal protective equipment to customers who enter the waiting area and ask for them.

As part of her efforts to gain new customers, Brenner has offered free tacos with purchases and has had a food truck on site each Saturday.

Unfortunately, she said, she also has had to cut back hours among most of her full-time staffers and she has had to let go many of the part-timers.

“I'm hopeful and positive that it will turn around,” she said of the state of the economy after this crisis passes over. “It's kind of a new normal, but I do think it will turn around.”

The Roots Dispensary, which is the only current shop owned and operated by people who grew up in Lompoc, also is feeling some negative effects from the pandemic. Co-owner Luis Castaneda said that some employees have seen reduced hours as the store has adjusted its schedules to limit the number of people inside at any given time.

Still, Castaneda said that online orders for express pickup and deliveries have increased.

“We're attributing this to people wanting to stock up so, just in case everything does shut down, they'll be able to have their medications,” he said.

Elevate Lompoc is among the dispensaries that has not been forced to enact layoffs, and is actually looking to hire more people. That process also has been hampered by the COVID-19 crisis, however, as background checks are taking at least twice as long to conduct with many so-called nonessential court employees not currently working, Bates said.

“So getting the additional staff on-boarded and trained is delayed,” she said.

Dispensary workers aren’t the only employees in the cannabis industry feeling the pinch of this health crisis.

Lompoc resident Joe A. Garcia, who works as a brand ambassador for a company that supplies cannabis products, has also seen his work opportunities evaporate over the past few weeks.

As an ambassador, Garcia had been on a set schedule in which he would regularly visit 11 dispensaries — four in Lompoc, three in Santa Barbara and four in Port Hueneme — and set up booths where he could highlight his company’s products, answer questions about them and offer deals.

Given that his job primarily consists of connecting with members of the public, Garcia said he is unsure when he will be able to work again.

“My job is to interact with people and right now that's kind of what they don't want happening,” he said.

Garcia, who expressed gratitude for his husband remaining employed amid this pandemic, said he has already filed for unemployment insurance. With no idea when he can expect to resume his job, Garcia said he is planning to pursue other work in the industry.

“I'm going to try to hop on to become a delivery driver or do something else temporarily, at least,” he said. “But, you know, I'll be fighting everybody else that's laid off and looking for the same job. So we'll see what happens.”

While the overall economic impacts of this outbreak are still unknown, some cannabis operators said they are trying what they can to help the Lompoc business community stay afloat.

At Elevate Lompoc, Bates reported that management has been ordering staff breakfast and lunch meals multiple times per day from Lompoc restaurants. Further, she said, the shop plans to purchase gift cards from local businesses to give away to customers.

“Just because we are able to be open doesn't mean we can let our neighbors and friends suffer,” she said.

Castaneda, a Lompoc High School alumnus, said he and the team at The Roots Dispensary share a similar outlook.

Castaneda noted that his store is already giving out gift cards that can be used at local businesses, and that members of management have done outreach on social media to identify and offer support to people who are in need of supplies.

“What we tell all our customers all the time is we're going to be open as long as we can, we're going to be as safe as we possibly can, and we really want our whole community to come out of this strong,” he said. “I know it's a scary time — definitely the craziest thing that has ever happened in my life — so we want to make a positive impact and be here for our community.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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