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What it’s like to deliver weed in a pandemic

California declared marijuana dispensaries an “essential” business. Here’s what selling during coronavirus is like for drivers.

California has declared marijuana dispensaries an “essential” business.
Getty Images/EyeEm

Last year, The Goods interviewed a driver employed by the San Jose marijuana dispensary Caliva, who spent her workdays ferrying CBD and THC products to customers around the Bay Area. She represented a burgeoning network of labor opportunities around the legal cannabis boom; as growers and cultivators spring up in hot spots like Denver, Oregon, and Massachusetts, so too does the need for weed-fluent marketers, concierges, and delivery professionals.

But like every other industry in 2020, the still-young American cannabis sector is dealing with the fallout of Covid-19. On March 19, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared dispensaries as “essential businesses” alongside grocery stores and pharmacies, making them exceptions to the statewide shelter-in-place order. For now, that means Caliva drivers are still on the road.

For Bryan, a 57-year old driver who’s been working at Caliva for five months and is being identified by a pseudonym to protect his privacy, the work has never been better. The aftermath of that shelter-in-place mandate sparked a huge influx of Caliva orders. Californians are stocking up on cannabis to contend with their new reality, and Bryan has happily picked up shifts to stay employed and stay active. While he does some tech consulting work on the side, he looks at his marijuana delivery job as a mission; in this moment, as everyone contends with how powerless this pandemic has rendered them, earthly pleasures are some of the only things individuals can control.

We talked about that, as well as the contactless measures he’s taken to keep himself and his customers safe, and the satisfaction he feels in giving his clients something to look forward to amid all this darkness. Our interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

So when did coronavirus start affecting your job?

The biggest change happened the day they announced the shelter-in-place. It happened to be a day I was working at Caliva, and as soon as the announcement came through, our online order system was inundated. I had never seen panic buying, or what appeared to me to be panic buying, like that. The number of orders that came in just skyrocketed. I couldn’t tell you numbers, but from the delivery bags I saw, it was hundreds of percent increase. It seems to have been that way ever since. So many people are concerned about getting their medicine they need, or just a way to escape from being trapped in their house 24/7.

I’m a news junkie, so I knew this thing was coming, but it took our business from “steady busy” to “there’s no way in the world we can keep up with this.” I’ve been running nonstop ever since.

What do you remember from that first day? Were you driving the whole day?

I normally work weekend evenings. So what I can tell you is that before coronavirus, sometimes it can be hard to get a full shift because we stop taking orders at 9. But not only have I been getting full shifts now, I’ve been working overtime. I am easily 100 percent more busy than I’ve been. I am able to tell the difference between my recreational and medical users, and my medical users have the same look on their face: relief and gratefulness that they’re getting what they need. I hear so often, “Thank you for bringing this, I’m so glad you guys are still out there.” I’m on the mission side of cannabis. I’ve seen what it can do firsthand medicinally. I hope I can help spread the message that this silly little weed can do an enormous amount of good.

Are customers more appreciative to you now than they were, say, a month or so ago? Do people have more of an emotional reaction to you than they have in the past?

Very much so. The vast majority of customers are grateful that we’re still in business and still delivering. During this incredibly busy time, it’s been taking longer to make deliveries. It’s not a criticism, it’s just physics. And by and large, our customers have been so understanding of the increased delivery times. Caliva has been great at communicating, they’ve set those expectations right up front, and we meet those expectations. We need to change with the times. Are we making a lot more money? Sure we are. But more importantly, we’re getting people the products that they need to deal with their current reality, which is pretty crappy for most people.

Is it stressful at all trying to stay on top of all those orders?

I don’t want to sound like an asshole, but so far this coronavirus has been nothing but upside for me personally. I’m getting a lot more hours, and I love the work. Sometimes I think I sound like a Pollyanna, but every delivery I make, I’m making someone’s life better. That really matters to me. Am I just a delivery guy? Yeah, but I’m making people happy. I don’t get frustrated with it. I love driving as an activity. I’m also an extreme introvert, so I don’t normally go out to bars. So it hasn’t impacted me that much personally. So far, this has been good for me, which means I can devote even more energy to caring for our customers.

Have your tips gone up?

Customers can tip if they’d like, but we never ask. But yes, in the last two weeks, tipping is up significantly. Maybe 30 to 50 percent. There are still people out there who don’t understand that everyone in the state is ordering marijuana right now, and there are only so many drivers. So some people get nasty. But if you can’t understand that we’re absolutely buried, and the fact that I’m risking my personal safety bringing it to you … those people are rare, and they’re never going to be satisfied.

Were you at all surprised that dispensaries were deemed essential businesses in California?

We were wondering that. When [the shelter-in-place order] first came down, it wasn’t clear whether we were going to be deemed essential or not. I’m not saying this authoritatively, but from my understanding ... Caliva went to the city in San Jose and made their case, saying that we have customers that depend on us.

How are you socially distancing while you’re delivering cannabis?

We received really solid guidance from Caliva. In fact, we are the first dispensary in the country doing curbside pickup, so people don’t even have to go into the store. When Caliva says they’re going to do things to protect customers and workers, they do it. We’ve been given instructions to be sensitive to how the customer wants to handle the transaction.

I’ve had numerous customers who’ve come over, and I can see from the look on their face that they want me to keep my distance. I had one guy who had a footstool set up in the middle of the garage, and he walked up and put his stuff on it and walked away, and then I walked up and put my stuff on it and walked away.

I’m going to try to behave the way that makes the customer most comfortable, unless they’re being really unsafe and they’re making me uncomfortable. But I have a smile, I ask how they’re doing, and I try to make their day a little bit better. I’m old enough to remember when marijuana wasn’t boutique-y. It’s amazing.

What are you doing to keep yourself safe?

I’m gloved up the whole time. I never touch customers’ packages. I never touch the money, and we do a lot of cash business. If I don’t have my gloves on and I touch something, I’m using my hand sanitizer. Caliva is limiting the amount of people in the store. The cleaning staff is constantly working. I’m getting emails from various departments with new guidance measures. They’re taking every reasonable precaution that they can.

You mentioned before how you look at marijuana delivery as a mission. Has that mission felt more personal for you lately, given how many people are looking for something to make their lives better right now?

Absolutely. I feel a real sense of accomplishment at the end of a day. I always feel good. I’m out helping people. It’s the perfect way I can contribute to my world with the skill sets that I have. I would never be a hospital worker, but I can be the guy that shows up with a smile bringing you the stuff you really, really need or really, really want. I find it remarkably rewarding on a number of levels, even more so than before.

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