Cannabis dispensaries have been deemed essential businesses in Nevada, as in most other states where marijuana is legal.

Since March 20, Nevada’s 70 cannabis dispensaries have been serving adult-use and medical customers by delivery alone.

On Friday, May 1, Nevada’s Governor Steve Sisolak opened all retail businesses for curbside operations, to include cannabis dispensaries.

“Quite frankly it took us by surprise,” said Sean Luse chief operating officer for NuLeaf, a cannabis company with a dispensary in Las Vegas and another in Incline Village. “Based on the comments the Governor made on Good Morning America, I guess it was Wednesday, to have him come on Thursday and grant curbside service to all retail businesses, cannabis included, was quite shocking.”

Especially shocking in that Luse and his staff had roughly 18 hours to develop a curbside commerce system that would enable biologically safe commerce and ensure compliance with state regulations, which are highly detailed at the point of sale. No one under 21 can be in the vehicle during a transaction.

“The Cannabis Control Board was right behind the Governor’s order just a couple hours later with the guidance and how to request permission to start curbside service and what the requirements were,” Luse said by phone. “So that came quick, and we of course immediately jumped on it and took the necessary steps and further refined recipes to meet the state’s requirements. Luckily, I got ourselves approved late Thursday night, so we’re able to kick off Friday morning.”

Even though dispensaries have been able to operate as an essential business sector, the ability to meet demand for products through delivery alone has resulted in a 50 percent drop in sales volume and significant layoffs.

NuLeaf is vertically integrated, which means it grows, processes, and sells cannabis and derivative products through a pair of retail outlets. NuLeaf also sells cannabis on the wholesale market to various other in-state manufacturers of edibles and concentrates. According to Sean Luse, the wholesale market has tanked too.

Luse has been able to retain his cultivation and dispensary staff but he has had to lay off a dozen workers at his processing facility. What’s more, as of now, due to the federal prohibition on marijuana possession, use, and sales, cannabis companies in Nevada and across the nation are not currently eligible for any form of federal emergency relief.

By Saturday, every dispensary in northern Nevada served customers in their cars. At Silver State Relief in Sparks, a steady stream of vehicles parked in designated spots. Budtenders wearing masks, goggles, and gloves made low-contact deliveries.

A Silver State Relief budtender serves customers in their cars on May 1, 2020 – photo: Brian Bahouth/The Ally

For dispensaries like NuLeaf’s in Incline Village and Las Vegas, the importance of tourist cannabis shoppers is significant. Will the added ability to sell curbside be a strong enough lifeline to keep NuLeaf going until dispensaries will be allowed to fully reopen and tourists return?

“I’d say it’s a sort of lifeline. We’re in a hurricane, but someone threw us a dinghy, so we’re on some kind of boat,” Luse said. “It’s maybe not exactly everything we needed and it’s not exactly perfect, but yeah, it’s definitely, I think it’s a shot in the arm for all retailers, and cannabis [businesses] particularly in this case, so yeah, I think it’s a great start in the right direction, in terms of balancing the need to stop the virus but also allow safe and smart commerce. So I think it’s good.”

The novel coronavirus pandemic and subsequent closure of nonessential businesses has forced companies into never-imagined models of operation. Luse says he and his team are learning and applying those lessons forward. For Luse and NuLeaf, the lesson at this point – stay on your toes.

“I think you’ve just got to stay adaptable and stay connected to your customers. Today you have to be able to constantly communicate the ever changing environment, and then be able to actually communicate with them [customers], which in a lot of retail in this world means being able to digitally take their orders and process them.”

Brian Bahouth has been a public media journalist since 1994 and has lived in Reno since 2000. He first came to northern Nevada to be news director at KUNR, Reno Public Radio and has subsequently filed scores of reports for National Public Radio, Nevada Public Radio, Capital Public Radio and KVMR in Nevada City, California. He is co-founder of KNVC community radio in Carson City. Support his work.