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Photo by Mira Laing

Green Saturday, Black Sunday

Legal cannabis just had its wildest weekend ever, so we kept tabs on S.F. dispensaries as blowout sales trimmed their supply down to seeds and stems.

Last Saturday was a historic, “Green Light Special” shopping day that stoners will remember fondly for years. Dispensary lines reached around the block as everything-must-go sales obliterated prices right before strict, new quality control guidelines went into effect on Sunday, July 1.

California now demands every single cannabis product be labeled with its precise potency, lab-tested for heavy metals and pesticides, and sold in child-resistant packaging. All marijuana products that did not meet the new standards had to be sold by closing time Saturday night — or else destroyed. Delirious schwag shoppers cleaned up as 50-percent-off deals turned into 80-percent-off deals as the day wore on, and into buy-one-get-one-free bargains by nighttime.

The crash came Sunday morning. Supplies were so depleted that some San Francisco dispensaries didn’t even bother to open. Statewide, an estimated $350 million in cannabis now sits in locked trash bins, waiting to be destroyed because it could not be sold by that midnight deadline.

“At least 90 percent of our inventory was in non-compliant packaging for one reason or another and needed to be sold,” Green Door director of operations A.G. Melendez tells SF Weekly. Melendez tripled his budtender staff Saturday, but still encountered the massive wait times seen at dispensaries all over town.

“Saturday was certainly one of the busiest days of the year,” says Green Cross founder and president Kevin Reed. “Lines went 30 to 40 people deep down the sidewalks.

“We discounted products so deeply that we ended up with nothing left on our shelves that was not compliant-ready for July 1,” Reed adds. “We do have about 75 percent fewer products on our shelves then we did six months prior.”

Different dispensaries approached this July 1 tectonic shift with different strategies.

Green Door, for instance, put only non-compliant products on its shelves while discreetly stockpiling reserves of cannabis that met the July 1 standards for that date. “We did have a lot of compliant inventory lined up in the background to go live with [Sunday],” Melendez says.

But the Apothecarium’s three San Francisco stores had consciously weeded out the non-compliant stock for some time.

“We’ve been planning on this day for months,” says Apothecarium Chief Marketing Officer Eliot Dobris. We are planning on destroying very, very little cannabis.”

Yes, he said “destroying.” According to  a June 6 decree by the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, “Cannabis goods that do not meet all statutory and regulatory requirements must be destroyed in accordance with the rules pertaining to destruction.”

 

Those rules apply to more than just the mind-altering weed, vape oils, and edibles themselves.

“If it’s a non-recyclable, non-compostable item like a vape pen cartridge, we need to render it unusable,” Dobris says.

So, after working one of the most brutally busy days of the year, dispensary staff then had to stay at work until the wee hours Sunday morning smashing vape cartridges and breaking down unneeded packaging. They had to comply with the byzantine state marijuana disposal requirements that turned once-pricey items into “cannabis waste” at 12:01 a.m. on July 1.

“The items must be taken out of the packaging, destroyed completely so that they can never be refurbished, and placed into a locked container — all underneath the view of a video camera,” Melendez tells us.

These processes had to be recorded, with volumes double-checked down to the nanogram by state-authorized agencies tasked with legal removal and destruction of dispensaries’ non-compliant cannabis.

This may sound extreme, but it’s been happening regularly ever since the California legal cannabis industry was born. Green Door has done weekly cannabis waste pick-ups all year, just never as big as Sunday’s.

“This weekend is when I had to ask for more bins, because I filled them up,” Melendez laughs.

Other dispensaries had more creative approaches to legally ridding themselves of excess marijuana.

“SPARC plans to purchase remaining supply for our compassion program,” founder and CEO Erich Pearson says, referring to a charitable side project that gives free cannabis to cancer, HIV, and diabetes patients.

All this effort does mean the end of those weird, white child-resistant bags you’ve been forced to buy for an extra dollar these last six months.

“A lot of people are really happy about not needing those childproof exit bags anymore,” the Apothecarium’s Dobris says. “They were costly and wasteful.”

But it also means serious shortages on dispensary shelves, as distributors just don’t have enough supply that meets these new requirements. Popular items like those $15-$20 grams, medicated gummies, and pre-roll joints are going to particularly scarce in the weeks to come.

“Right now, I see and hear of desperation everywhere, mostly to find compliant products,” Reed tells us.

How bad was it? On Sunday morning, the delivery service Eaze — a massive, clearinghouse aggregator that normally carries dozens of brands and products in every imaginable cannabis category — had only three choices available in their vape cartridges and pre-roll sections.

“At one point, we had up to 40 different strains of flower. Today I have 10,” Melendez says. “You’re going to see a lot of retailers’ shelves fill up over the next two to three weeks. But for now, we have very limited menus.”

Those shelves will fill again, but not all of your favorite products will return.

“We expect that many small vendors will not be able to sustain themselves in this new market,” Reed says. “It’s sad to see this happen, especially since many of them worked to make the cannabis industry what it is today.”

Reed thinks his Green Cross team did a bang-up job working marathon shifts on this historically challenging weekend. “Although we certainly do not look forward to doing it again at the end of December when Phase Three testing standards hit us.”

That’s right, yet another industry shake-up is scheduled for Dec. 31,  2018, when an even more complex set of lab testing requirements kicks in. So mark your calendars, because the day before New Year’s Eve will likely be another high holiday of blowout sales.

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