Cannabis dispensaries in Puerto Rico are taking all the necessary measures to keep their business open and to cope with the increased demand for cannabis that the country has experienced since the lockdown started. As the pandemic keeps turning the world upside down, cannabis consumers have to deal with anxiety and insomnia, and many of them use cannabis to keep their life under control.
In Puerto Rico, social isolation as a method of prevention to slow down the spread of COVID-19 has led to a historic increase in the number of licenses issued for the consumption of medical cannabis. Clinic owners conffirmed an increase of up to 100% in sales over the past two and a half months.
For March, the same month that the government decreed a curfew that put a temporary lock on many businesses and forced citizens into confinement, the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Cannabis – the agency that oversees the industry on the island – began registering more applications for renewal and licenses than usual from patients who received a medical recommendation for the use of cannabis as a treatment for their health conditions.
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As the pandemic continues, cannabis consumption keeps rising
“The license applications (new ones and renewals) received monthly by the platform, on average, do not exceed 7,000, but for the month of March, 7,998 were received and in April their number was 8,625… that is the highest number we have registered in the office… We are talking about almost two thousand more than those received before the quarantine. I’ve never seen that number before,” Dennise Maldonado, director of the Office of Medical Cannabis, told Primera Hora, adding that as of May 13th, 4,291 cases had been registered. “The trend is marked and sustained so we may see a new record this month as well,” she said.
In Puerto Rico, the medical cannabis industry is governed by the framework of Law 42 to Manage the Study, Development and Research of Cannabis for Innovation, Applicable Standards and Limits; and by the Medicinal Cannabis Regulatory Board (Regulation 9038). Although the agency’s medical advisory body has not yet made an official analysis of what happened, Maldonado attributed the growth in cases to the adverse effects that the quarantine has had on the emotional and physical aspects of many patients.
“I haven’t met with the medical advisory body. However, right now from the information provided by the system, we are seeing that anxiety disorder is the one that has increased the most among applicants, and we can understand that there are factors that have an influence, such as fear of the unknown, lack of employment, and others… the factors are diverse,” he said.
Data from the agency indicated, for example, that in April 53% of patients said that among the conditions they would treat with medical cannabis was anxiety and other conditions that cause anxiety. So far in May, the percentage has increased to 55 % in those categories.
“Certainly, since March we are seeing an increase in anxiety disorders, insomnia and depression in medical recommendations. That information is provided by doctors to the agency when they recommend treatment,” Maldonado said, explaining that when “other conditions that cause anxiety” are mentioned, it means that patients have been diagnosed with catastrophic or chronic diseases that cause pathologies associated with emotional disorder.
According to Health Department statistics, there are more than 130,000 patients on the island with medical cannabis treatment, of which 60.36% are men and 39.64% women.
Patients between the ages of 21 and 40 account for 44.47% of cases, while minors account for less than 2%.
There are a total of 130 dispensaries selling medical cannabis products, and almost all of them are concentrated in the Metro-Fajardo region. In addition, the Department of Health platform has registered that there are 33 cannabis crops for legal medical treatment and 32 cannabis manufacturing companies on the island.
Puerto Ricans prefer more gummies than any other products
Luis González, a partner in the Earth Gift dispensaries – with locations in Plaza San Miguel, in Trujillo Alto and Carolina (Laguna Gardens) – has seen a dizzying increase in sales since March. New customers have come to the establishments looking for alternative products to release tension and improve the quality of sleep.
“After the coronavirus we are seeing an increase in customers who are looking to treat conditions of depression, anxiety and insomnia. That’s what they complain about the most… in these two months these conditions have shot up and I understand, from what they mention, that many are unemployed and know that an economic recession is coming and that alters their emotions,” he said, adding that in the case of new customers the increase is around 15% to 20%.
He added that on average each of the establishments serves 200 clients per day when the average number of visits fluctuates around 150 per day. The approximate value of each transaction is $150, Gonzalez revealed. The groceries and the vaporizers are in the first places for sale. “Gummies and flowers are our daily bread,” he said.
At the Green Heaven dispensary – located in Plaza Matienzo in Trujillo Alto – its owner Lisandra Aponte confirmed an increase of up to 100% in sales in March, April, and May, compared to the records the business registered in February.
“We’ve received a lot of new patients who weren’t coming in before… sales have gone up dramatically, in my case, by 100% every month compared to February, when we opened. The change was noticed very quickly since the lockdown began on March 14th. It was very noticeable,” she said, referring to the fact that in March she had 150 patients registered in the system and in April that number doubled to 300.
As the Health Department official said, the recent clients received at Green Heaven are seeking treatment to alleviate anxiety and insomnia.
“Those two are the most common problems we’re seeing these days. I also have a lot of old people who come in with neuropathy and chronic pain. But anxiety and insomnia are the two most notable conditions in quarantine. Before, they came with other conditions like muscle aches, migraine … now almost everyone comes in and the first thing they mention is that they can’t sleep or they have anxiety about the closing and because they can’t leave their house,” Aponte explained.
Groceries, as Gonzalez mentioned, are also a favorite these days. “A lot of gummies and chocolates are being sold. But we have a variety of groceries that include honey, cookies, brownies, hard candy and chocolate powder, among others,” he added.
Strict measures are taken in order to keep the business open during the lockdowns
Among the prevention measures implemented by the clinics are restricting the entry of patients to the establishments and preventing them from being accompanied.
“Here everyone comes in with their mask, gloves, we have disinfectant cleaning every hour and something that has worked very well for us is that customers are placing orders by phone or through the weedmaps platform,” said Aponte, indicating that orders are usually ready in 15 minutes and patients pick them up at the store. “We don’t take products to the carts because that is prohibited by the Health Department,” he added.
Meanwhile, at Earth Gift they have implemented a protocol that includes taking the temperature of customers and using air filters that disperse ozone and help disinfect the area.
“In addition, we have a shift system through beepers like those given out in restaurants that allow patients to go to their car and return to the store when that beeper vibrates. We also have phone orders with pick up at the clinic,” Gonzalez said.
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