For Carol Erhart, April 20 is more than just a stoner holiday.
“We have a big, private backyard that’s connected to the store,” said Erhart, referring to the retail marijuana store 4:20 Friendly she co-owns with her wife off Sunset Highway. “We invite people to our backyard, just a personal invitation to come next door. We have live music, and all of our vendors come out. It’s just a nice picnic. We can listen to music and enjoy the sun.”
That annual celebration has been postponed, another large-scale event that’s been upended by orders to stay home to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. And while 4:20 Friendly and dozens of other retail shops in Eastern Washington remain open per Gov. Jay Inslee’s order deeming them essential, social distancing rules will stay in place during what has traditionally been one of the busiest days for the legal market in Washington.
“I don’t know what the turnout’s going to look like because of all this,” said David Morgan, owner and manager of Lucky Leaf, a downtown Spokane retailer. “We can only have a max of 10 people at a time in the lobby.”
In the past, stores have held doorbuster sales on prerolled joints, flower and concentrates specific to 4/20, an Oxford English Dictionary-recognized celebration of the cannabis culture started by a group of California smokers in the 1960s. That’s led to long lines and crowds, something the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board is hoping to limit this year.
“We wanted to proactively get in front of some of the thinking about 4/20,” said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Liquor and Cannabis Board. “It’s one of, if not the biggest sales time of the year.”
Suggestions from the Liquor and Cannabis Board include running sales over more than one day, to give customers time to safely enter a store and not crowd during a single day for deals. They’ve also suggested canceling live music, parties and food trucks, which had shown up at retail stores for 4/20 celebrations.
For Morgan, it meant canceling a planned joint, two-day music event with Browne’s Addition venue Lucky You Lounge, which has been shuttered under the governor’s orders.
Lucky Leaf has also been trying to encourage online sales of their product, Morgan said, by offering a 25% discount. Customers can make their selections online, then park in a designated space on First Avenue and run in to pay, show their ID and collect their purchases, or stay in their car. State laws prohibit delivery and customers must still pay with cash.
“It’s less time at the shop. It frees up parking, and it gets them in and out quicker,” Morgan said. “It’s less risky.”
Erhart said her store mainly serves repeat buyers and hasn’t yet established an online system for shopping. But the store is still practicing social distancing, and a menu is available online that allows customers to browse without being inside the store.
“We’re looking at this as a community service,” she said. “People use this for anxiety, and a number of other reasons. I don’t think anxiety’s ever been this high.”
Erhart said sales usually dip in the week leading up to the 4/20 holiday, as regular customers hold off on big purchases to capitalize on discount pricing. That hasn’t been the case this year, she said, with consistent sales during self-isolation that had bumped in recent days.
Both she and Morgan said they believed customers had received their stimulus checks from the federal government, and were heeding the advice from Congress to spend it. On a drug that Congress still deems illegal.
“The stimulus checks that just dropped, that put a spike in sales,” Morgan said Thursday. “We’ll see how much money people have to spend. A lot of people are out of work.”
Erhart is urging people not to line up at her store, for the sake of her employees’ safety. Prices are already marked down as low as they’ll be for the holiday, she said, with many of the store’s suppliers cutting back on production due to social-distancing rules.
“There’s so many things contributing to this perfect storm,” she said. “The traditional 4/20 is not going to happen this year.”