For most dispensary owners in D.C., it’s routine to order a few pounds of cannabis to replenish all of their hefty smell-proof jars. Those jars are placed on displays for cannabis consumers to safely ogle at their favorite strain. Recently that hasn’t been the case. Norbert Pickett, who owns a small medical dispensary called Cannabliss, orders from eight different cultivators to restock his shelves. Pickett tries to order his cannabis in bulk, which makes up over 90% of his cannabis business, but he can only seem to get a mere couple of grams of the strains he’s looking for. Since opening up in 2019, Pickett says flower shortages are a constant issue for him, with growers not supplying him with the amount he needs to meet the growing demand of patients.
Pickett said, “It’s been a struggle, we would order pounds of strains and we would get grams, sometimes 14 grams, sometimes we wouldn’t even get what we ordered at all.” Interestingly enough, Pickett isn’t the only one with this cannabis supply dilemma. It’s a common issue for almost all of D.C.’s independent dispensaries that aren’t owned fully, or in part, by a cultivation center. Pickett, along with many others, has a license to sell marijuana but not cultivate it, leaving him at a huge disadvantage when dealing with suppliers who are vertically integrated.
This makes it extremely difficult for independent owners like Pickett to get cannabis to patients. Most cultivators offer special treatment, such as deals and first priority on flower, to their own dispensaries. Cannabliss has seen much growth since opening: they are 100% Black-owned along with being the first dispensary where employees chose to unionize.
Central to the issue is the fact that there is not enough cannabis to go around. There are only eight cultivation centers that are active for a medical marijuana program that counted more than 9,000 registered patients reported in January.
The customer base also expanded greatly when a new D.C. law allowed for out-of-state cardholders to purchase cannabis flower. In February, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser addressed the inequitable supply issue in legislation. The “Medical Cannabis Amendment of 2021” would prohibit suppliers from charging lower prices to retailers that they have ownership in.
D.C.’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration(ABRA), which runs the district’s cannabis program, spokesperson Jared Powell said that the agency was looking into unfair distribution practices in D.C.’s cannabis market. It’s clear that D.C. is going through a supply and demand issue that can only be remedied by some form of legislation in order to keep all parties happy.