At last year’s 4/20 celebrations, Priscilla Vilchis remembers a festive mix of block parties, food trucks, music and special deals on marijuana products.
But this year, the quasi-holiday for cannabis enthusiasts was much more of a somber affair. With dispensary storefronts closed and limited to delivery only, and tourists gone, she estimates her sales as a cultivation business are down 85 percent.
“It's like crickets in the store and everywhere,” said Vilchis, CEO of Premium Produce. “I hope this rectifies as soon as possible because I don't want these people to go to the black market and try to buy product if they don't know how to order online.”
Her products are usually sold before they’re even harvested, but as dispensaries grapple with a sudden slowdown in sales, Vilchis’ company has no new orders coming in. She thinks allowing curbside pickup in addition to delivery could help usher in more business for dispensaries that are not equipped to do deliveries and people who are uncomfortable with the process of placing an order for delivery.
While she hasn’t destroyed any product, it’s piling up in the vault — so much so that she’s had to try to conserve space by turning the marijuana into oils and resins so she can more efficiently pack it in for storage.
She hasn’t stopped growing marijuana because doing so could cause her to lose millions of dollars, but there are plenty of bills still to pay — including for electricity and $15,000 to $20,000 a month for plant nutrients. Quarterly tax bills to the county are also coming due, but because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, no federal Small Business Administration loan money will be coming her way.
“We are a little bothered by it and we're hoping that the laws change a lot quicker, but it’s a little ironic, right?” she said, “that everyone says it's essential, yet no one wants to help.”
She’s also had to furlough the vast majority of her staff. Many are seniors — she said her workforce tends older because those are the workers who have shown themselves to be most focused and appreciative of the job.
“They're very understanding. They know what's going on, but they call me every day to check up on me,” she said. “It's very sad, very sad, but they're home. They're safe.”
For now, she’s now working with a skeleton crew in two shifts — one in the morning and one at night — to try to maintain social distance. As CEO, she’s taken many of those daily tasks herself, including trimming plants.
“I've become a woman of many hats,” she said.
Her goal is to keep costs down as much as possible during the shutdown but then be ready to bounce back as soon as normalcy returns. Like it was when legal sales first began, she said, the market is fair game again to whoever is able to seize the opportunity.
“We have to work together with the dispensaries and when we do get open, we have to move quick,” she said. “They do have to be quick and be able to market and then start again as soon as you're ready to go.”