Beyond the usual—from honouring and paying tribute to the plant that has brought so many people around the world joy, to acknowledging those that paved the way to make such a moment possible—I think 4/20 was special for a few reasons this year. Or, maybe “unique” is the more appropriate word I should use.
For one, usually 4/20 takes place on April 20th. However, this year, April 2020 is also 4/20. That not only means we get to celebrate and talk about cannabis all month long, but it’ll be another hundred years before we see a 4/20 quite like this one again.
On that note, this 4/20 is also… hmmmmm, different… because of the elephant in the room. That elephant’s name has the number that comes right before 20 in it. Perhaps you’re familiar with it by now. COVID-19.
How did COVID-19 impact 4/20 day — and how has it affected 4/20 the month? Besides community, 4/20 is usually about sharing. Sharing a joint. Sharing a pipe. Sharing a vape. Sharing is caring, right? But this year, not sharing has been caring! I don’t think I really need to explain why.
So, that’s one thing that definitely stands out.
Another? How my company, TREC Brands, has responded to commemorating 4/20 in the face of the outbreak. Last year, we threw a party at Rebel, Toronto’s largest nightlife and concert destination, where we delivered 1,500 burgers to partygoers — slash, stoners. This year? With physical- and social-distancing rules in full effect, we’ve focused on educating our consumers from the comfort of their homes.
We’re debuting how-to demonstrations over Zoom, where budtenders teach everyone to roll tulip-shaped joints. Featuring the likes of Rose Reisman, who has been labeled the “Nutrition Guru of Canada” for over 25 years, we’re hosting several workshops around CBD cooking foundations and recipes. We’re instituting Q&A sessions with our Netherlands-based partner Strain Hunters, giving our users a chance to learn more about where the strains we favour actually come from.
All told, it’s been a month of mining new ways to create engagement around our distinctive WINK, Blissed and Thumbs Up brands. Since I believe 4/20 is also becoming more and more about experimentation, this has been apt.
This 4/20 marked another first, as well. While it’s not the first 4/20 that cannabis has been legal in Canada, it’s the first that it has been recognized as an “essential service.” In other words, as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on public health, the economy and seemingly everything in between and all around, it means cannabis has been deemed vital to helping preserve life, health and basic societal functioning.
This designation has not come without its share of drama, though.
First, Ontario deemed cannabis essential. Then, the province removed cannabis retail shops from the list. Then, it allowed them to reopen for curbside pickup and delivery services.
All the uproar that occurred when cannabis was taken off the list? Any smart and reasonable person could have predicted it.
I’ll be measured in my words here, as I’m quite grateful for everything our government has done for the industry, but, to me, it didn’t make a ton of sense. Especially when liquor stores were kept open and online cannabis sales remained available through the OCS, meaning consumers outside the core GTA would have had to leave their home, then line up at their local post office (usually inside a busy Shoppers Drug Mart) to pick up their order.
What happened to the whole #StayTheFHome or keep-6ft-apart thing? This was not thought through thoroughly. Clearly.
Thankfully, the industry rallied together, signed a petition and urged the government to reconsider. After all, the government’s actions had only served to empower the illicit market. All the obvious issues with that aside, do you think that the illicit market is taking proper sanitary COVID-19 measures while delivering illegal cannabis? Think again.
We raised our voice and they heard it. And, just like that, we are essential — again! Mission accomplished.
But you know that old saying?
With great power comes great responsibility?
Well, with “essential” status also comes great responsibility.
First off, in addition to continuing with our socially conscious initiatives and not missing a beat with them, TREC has the responsibility to act compassionately during these times. Many have been laid off, therefore creating brand awareness needs to be done tastefully.
Secondly, we can’t rest on our laurels and pat ourselves on the back for being declared important enough to stay up and running. We need to work harder than ever to come out the other side of this stronger, since TREC’s own set of challenges related to COVID-19 haven’t just magically evaporated into thin air.
For example, right now isn’t exactly a time where people are freely spending their hard-earned dollars on luxury items. We’ve accordingly seen a dip in WINK sales, as we offer a premium product. Likewise, data shows that the average consumer’s first filter online is price. Which means we need to ensure there is the right product mix for them.
For example, pre-rolled joint sales have also significantly declined. Gone are the days of sharing a joint with your friends and colleagues, at least for now. The convenience of a pre-roll on the way to the club or a dinner party is not as appealing. Heck, all the clubs are closed and you’re not even allowed to go to a dinner party!
And, for example, Ontario has hit the ‘pause’ button on new retail store authorizations, which throws the forecasts of all cannabis companies out the door, as the anticipated uptick in revenues from more distribution points is no longer a thing anymore.
Thirdly and finally, while cannabis being deemed essential in Canada during a global crisis is amazing on so many fronts, there are still thousands of people convicted of an activity (that is no longer a crime) sitting in a jail cell.
I am not okay with this. Not one bit. There are many activism efforts shedding light on this amidst COVID-19, such as the Last Prisoner Project. Moreover, I have personally joined a group — #LetThemOut — to collaborate with others to create awareness around this situation.
How can you help? There is a petition you can sign if you agree that public officials should take steps to protect people incarcerated for cannabis activity from COVID-19 as well as preserving contact with loved ones on the outside.
At the end of the day, while it’s sometimes difficult to see light at the end of the tunnel with COVID-19 currently dominating our lives and lifestyles, I’m proud to be part of an industry that not only provides the opportunity for resilient and strong companies to adapt, to serve and to shine, but also an industry that people are turning to as a way to help with the pressures, anxiety and stress of this pandemic.
Cannabis as an “essential” service? That’s damn right.
Enjoy the rest of your once-in-a-century 4/20 — unprecedented circumstances and all!
Founding Director, & CEO, TREC Brands