A cannabis retailer in California announced it will be paying its employees two extra dollars per hour for the next month amid the Coronavirus pandemic. March and Ash said the move was a gesture to thank its employees for "[going] above and beyond to implement changes in our operations necessary to protect the health and safety of our workforce and our customers." The company is adamant that its services help people to lead happier and healthier lives, and that mantra clearly extends to its workers. The Public Affairs Director, Spencer Andrews, told Wikileaf the decision to raise wages was based on two factors:
“First, our employees want to be safe and they want to work. That hard balance should be reflected in their pay. This is no different than other industries when workers are asked to go above and beyond in order to meet the challenge of an unforeseen event.”
The pay increase applies to all hourly employees, across all portions of the company. That includes things like concierge, reception and customer service, people who work in inventory, dispatch, fulfillment, and delivery, and even the marketing team. Andrews continued,
“Second, as a new industry, we look closely to established industries for guidance. In this case, we looked to the grocery and pharmacy industries for guidance on steps they were taking to protect customers and workers. The grocery stores in our area announced a similar $2 hr wage increase and we thought it was important to show solidarity with their workers. Our owners grew up in an era where grocery stores provided good, stable jobs with benefits and opportunities for advancement. That's what we want at March and Ash. So there's both an internal recognition factor and an external alignment factor."
March and Ash is one of the largest cannabis retailers in Southern California, after only three years in business. It's locally-owned and has licensed medical and recreational operations in the cities of San Diego, Imperial Valley, and Vista. The latter two are medical stores, and the former is a recreational retailer.
March and Ash struggles with sales after initial spike
California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide Shelter in Place order March 4th, where he and the State Public Health Officer said all "non-essential" businesses should close. Governor Newsom decided the retail of cannabis is essential. The permission is included among a list of various medical facilities. Andrews told Wikileaf March and Ash views the ability to stay open as a privilege. When asked whether sales had been impacted, Andrews answered that they had. The company feels that’s largely due to the fact that more people are staying at home, and many are being more frugal with their disposable income.
“While there was a lot of press about cannabis sales increasing as a result of COVID-19, we are much more cautious about what the true impact will be,” said Andrews. “As a retailer with locations that are across three very different types of communities, we can see already that the crisis is having a significant impact on the spending habits of consumers, including cannabis. For example, a certain segment of consumer is now buying only lower-priced products or spending less at sale than before. Cannabis consumers are everyday people. And while we anticipate sales will remain steady we also aren't so quick to jump on the idea that because of this crisis sales will increase significantly in any sustained manner."
March and Ash General Counsel Breton Peace says the company serves medical cannabis to thousands of patients. "We also know the illegal operators will leave their doors open under any conditions. Our employees have stepped up to ensure we can continue to provide our community with legal and safe access to medical cannabis. We understand our ability to remain open is a privilege that comes with a responsibility to move with great diligence and care and recognizing the people on the frontline is part of meeting that responsibility," said Peace. The reasoning behind what constitutes an essential business is explained in the order:
"The federal government has identified 16 critical infrastructure sectors whose assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, economic security, public health or safety, or any combination thereof. I order that Californians working in these 16 critical infrastructure sectors may continue their work because of the importance of these sectors to Californians' health and well-being."
Adapting to a coronavirus world
March and Ash says it will be adding to its delivery capacity, so customers can still access both recreational and medical marijuana products without having to leave their home. The company's dispatch centers have extra personnel available for the time being, to help answer an influx of questions about that service, as well as help people choose the right products. Free delivery is available from March and Ash in San Diego and Imperial Valley; the store in Vista only offers pick-up. March and Ash Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Saco says the company is committed to customer service, but to ensure quality work, it must first earn its employees' trust. It's hoping to do that with the $2 raise. "Our employees are working under unprecedented conditions and I’m proud of the way they’ve responded to the challenge of continuing to responsibly serve the communities of San Diego and Imperial Counties," said Saco. March and Ash says it's taking extra precautions to ensure its customers and employees are kept safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. People working in the stores are trained to OSHA workplace and safety standards, which largely overlap with the CDC's recommended response to the Coronavirus. The company says it is also implementing a number of extra measures as well. Those include the following, according to March and Ash:
- Regularly disinfecting the store and office spaces with high-grade disinfecting cleaner meeting government guidelines.
- Increasing accessibility of hand sanitizers for customers and employees at multiple stations across each store.
- Increasing regular after-hours deep cleanings of the stores.
- Ensuring employees have the information they need to stay healthy or stay home if they feel unwell.
- Decreasing the ratio of customers to employees allowed on our retail floors at any time in order to comply with social distancing.
- “..We are limiting the number of people permitted to enter the reception and floor areas to no more than 10 people at a time, while others are held outside by security and staff with distance between them to the extent there is any wait. We want no more than 1 customer per concierge on the actual floor at any time,” explained Andrews.
- Closely monitoring a variety of sources for the latest updates and recommendations for managing this situation.
Andrews told Wikileaf, “It's been a lot of work and we're still watching closely to determine any other changes that should or must be made, including whether we ultimate determine to move solely to curbside and/or delivery.”