In most environments, a 30% spike in business in one month is reason to break out the champagne. During a global pandemic — with associated supply crunches, mandated process changes, and an uncertain future — the increase might provoke more angst than joy.
Ari Raptis, founder and CEO of Talaria Transportation, a logistics provider for the legal cannabis industry, has taken recent developments in stride. “Any sound logistics company should have a ‘crisis SOP (standard operating procedure),’” he says. “Ours works for this pandemic or any other type of crisis.”
For Raptis, that starts with the workforce, which is made up of retired state police. “These guys have gone to work in all types of circumstances to prepare them for what we're going through now,” Raptis says.
Talaria, a suburban Philadelphia-based company licensed to operate in 14 Northeast/Mid-Atlantic states, delivers legal cannabis from growers and processors to dispensaries and pharmacies using 17 Mercedes Benz Sprinter and Metro vans. Two more vans are on the way to meet the increase in demand.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced operational changes at Talaria, which aren’t easily managed in the tightly regulated cannabis market.
State laws require two workers in the vans during transport. While it’s impossible to maintain social distance in the same vehicle, Raptis reorganized drivers to form consistent pairs that use the same van and equipment instead of a constant rotation.
Talaria already had a standard daily cleaning protocol. Now, all touch points in the cab are sanitized with disinfectant and alcohol wipes, and the cargo area is sprayed with a disinfectant at the beginning and end of each day.
As well as masks, drivers wear gloves that are changed after each delivery. In keeping with a crisis SOP that maintains stages of severity and readiness, Raptis is ready for stage 5: “We have full medical protective suits for our drivers if and when it comes to that,” he says.
Raptis converted all manual signatures, such hardcopies of manifests and interactions with delivery points, to a digital process. “Two weeks ago, we went completely digital in a day,” says Raptis. “Anything that was done on paper is gone now.”
The recent upsurge in business, coupled with the pandemic-related cutbacks across all industry verticals, would seemingly create supply chain issues. This is exacerbated with cannabis because it’s not legal on a federal level and therefore can’t cross state lines.
“Any (legal marijuana) state east of the Mississippi can’t keep up with patient demand,” explains Raptis, “Shelves are running empty.”
That said, more growers are coming online, and Raptis says Talaria’s integrated network is able to get the product delivered as quickly as possible. “They (growers) are amazing at what they do, but they rely on us for fleet management and the logistics side of the business.”
The company recently created software to be able to expand its business model from B2B to include B2C with home deliveries.
“Now more than ever, patients don't want to leave their homes,” Raptis says. “They are looking for an online source to get their medicine delivered to their home. (Home delivery is) pretty normal in 2020, but not in the cannabis world.”
While regulations regarding cannabis home deliveries vary by county or even town, the pandemic has already facilitated some rules changes, which Raptis feels are antiquated in general.
In Pennsylvania, deliveries are allowed, though each caregiver had only been permitted a five-patient limit. Since the coronavirus crisis, that patient limit has been lifted entirely. Other states such as New York and Maryland are scrambling to get home deliveries up and running, Raptis says.
“We’re looking at how to take this crisis and turn (the system) around for the better,” he says. “With better home delivery in Pennsylvania, or if we could start home delivery in other states, we wouldn't have such a run on the dispensaries. Everyone would be able to manage their workload a lot better.”