While many local businesses were largely affected by closings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one local industry reached new heights over the last couple of months.
According to data from the Oklahoma Tax Commission, Norman residents spent more than $2.3 million dollars on medical marijuana products in April, which marks the highest grossing month for medical marijuana revenue in Norman since legalization in 2018. Norman dispensaries remitted more than $220,000 in sales tax in April, with the City of Norman receiving nearly $107,000 in city sales tax.
These numbers coincided with an increase in medical marijuana revenue statewide, as dispensaries across the states remitted nearly $10 million dollars in sales tax, which surpassed the previous state record of $7.8 million in March, according to data from OTC. Norman dispensaries recorded more than $1.8 million in revenue in March.
April's historic month for medical marijuana in Norman could be attributed to the rapid growth of the industry locally and statewide in recent months. There are 72 licensed dispensaries in Norman and nearly 300,000 Oklahoma residents have a medical marijuana license, according to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Association.
However, some local businesses attribute the boom in sales to residents staying home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Breea Clark declared dispensaries an essential business in her stay at home order for Norman in March, allowing dispensaries to remain open during the pandemic.
McKenzie Hattaway, shift leader at Fire Leaf Dispensary on 751 S Canadian Trails Dr., said the dispensary has experienced an increase in sales, but there were concerns about whether dispensaries would be allowed to stay open.
“I didn't know for sure if we'd have to shut down,” Hattaway said. “People that would come in (at the beginning) were wondering if we'd have to close. But when everything started shutting down, we were really busy. A lot of people made to-go orders and were able to come in more during our happy hours.”
Michael Miller, manager of Honeypot Shop on 1035 36th Ave NW, said he wasn't surprised that dispensaries were allowed to stay open, and believes the increase can be attributed to several factors.
“Some patients have a lot more time on their hands and just need to pass the time, and for others it's a stress-reliever,” Miller said. “But it's also a medicine for people. It would be the same as saying pharmacies can't be open (if dispensaries would have been closed).”
Miller said the Honeypot Shop had installed a bank-style drive-through before the pandemic, which allows patients to pay and receive their medicine without being in contact with dispensary employees, and it has been utilized by patients who are looking to adhere to social distancing.
“The majority of our patients go through the drive-through,” Miller said. “I think having the no-contact option has been a nice option for patients.”
Niko Prescott and Daniel Esquibel, managers at Higher Ground Dispensary on 588 Buchanan Ave, said they've also experienced an increase in business.
“A lot of people were stocking up for the whole month,” Prescott said. “They weren't used to staying home, so they were buying enough to last them for weeks instead of just a few days. I think when the (federal) stimulus money came in, there was a pretty big spike.”
As restrictions continue to decrease in Norman, many local dispensaries are reopening their stores for walk-in patients. However, many of them are preparing for another wave of COVID-19 in the fall.
Esquibel said he believes dispensaries could play a big role in helping to stabilize the economy, especially if some businesses are forced to close again later this year.
“I think sales are only going to increase, and people are going to really start pushing for (recreational marijuana),” Esquibel said. “I think this industry will be huge in helping the economy to bounce back because of the sales tax.”