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Quarantine culture, anxiety, social distancing, and lack of structure in day-to-day life has left people clamoring for ways to pass the time and cope with the “new normal” the COVID-19 pandemic has created.

For some, marijuana has been an escape.

Legal marijuana sales in states such as California, Washington, and Michigan skyrocketed just prior to the implementation of nationwide social distancing restrictions in March.

As social distancing came into play, New York’s neighbor to the east, Massachusetts, limited its 42 recreational marijuana dispensaries to individuals with medical cards as part of its public health guidance.

But that’s done little to deter Massachusetts smokers like Boston-area college student Thanasi Tsandilas from tapping personal sources to re-up his stash.

“Talking to my direct drug dealer, he said he’s been a lot busier than he was in February, just because kids aren’t as inclined to go to the dispensaries these days,” Tsandilas said. “One, they can’t leave the house.

“Two, they don’t really want to be going outside that much anyways, or to public areas like a dispensary where there’s a lot of person-to-person interaction.”

Supply and Demand

The pandemic’s disruption to spring classes forced Syracuse University students to leave town en mass for home in March while others opted to stay in their school year rentals. This has played into local underground market dynamics.

“Honestly, business has been better than usual for me,” said a 19-year-old SU student who deals drugs in and around Syracuse. “Since so many people have been quarantined and are so lonely and have been buying items in bulk in general.

“Weed happens to be one of them because people are bored out of their minds.”

His regular customers have been reaching out, but now they tend to re-up faster. People who would normally wait a week are in contact almost daily, he says, because they don’t have places to be.

“What are we going to go do? Nothing.” he said. “We might as well go through a park and smoke weed.”

Just before social distancing restrictions were mandated, the Syracuse dealer said he stocked up on product from a friend who brings dispensary grade weed from Canada to central New York. He tried to estimate the potential demand for pot as his customer base is both local residents and SU students – many of whom headed home to finish the spring semester there.

As people have settled into long-term quarantining, business is still not operating as usual for everyone.

“I’ve heard from people who sell that they’ve sometimes had trouble trying to sell the bulk amount they have,” said one SU senior staying in Syracuse who asked to remain anonymous.  “They didn’t prepare for the university to suspend classes.”

He says that the change in routine hasn’t only affected dealers, but also how easy access is to their customers. “Purchasing has definitely become a little more difficult. I bought a lot in one purchase prior to the start of the quarantine before it got too bad.”

"What are we going to do? Nothing. We might as well go through a park and smoke weed. "
SU student who sells marijuana

Change of habit

Despite stocking up in this manner, the student has noticed his consumption of marijuana decrease due to being at home with parents that don’t necessarily approve of what used to be his daily intake.

“I think I need it more now than I would at school,” the anonymous student at home in Massachusets said. “While at school I would use it more as a supplemental thing but now I feel like there’s times when I need it because everything is way more stressful.”

While there are many people who choose to smoke for any number of reasons, one undeniable part about smoking is the social aspect, which quarantine protocols discourage entirely. That may be what SU senior Ariel Wodaryck misses most.

“I’m using the same things, but obviously I’m not meeting up and smoking with friends,” Wodaryck said. “It’s much more enjoyable to smoke with your friends.”

Some people are choosing to smoke more often than they normally would due to an abundance of free time, but for others, the act of getting high has lost some of its allure.

The SU senior staying in Syracuse said, “It’s nice to come home and smoke as a reward or to relax yourself.”

However, since most days at home look the same now, “There are times where I don’t really feel like I’ve earned it, so that’s taken away some of the ability to unwind.”

A Syracuse University student smokes while in quarantine.
A Syracuse University student smokes while social distancing in Syracuse.

Life at home

For Tsandilas, who is now at home in Massachusetts, living with family again has been an adjustment. He said his mother knew he smoked pot, but didn’t know just how much until the last few weeks of staying home together.

“Obviously when you smoke every day it’s a little bit more of a shock to a 50-year-old woman,” Tsandilas said. “It kind of looks like you’re a drug addict, when realistically maybe you just like to sleep at night or whatever.”

Two weeks ago his mom came into his room to express concern that he was going on down the wrong path, so he had to assure her that his marijuana consumption hasn’t affected his grades, household chores or ability to function.

“I know tons of kids that smoke every day and are very successful, functional people,” he said. “But from a parent’s point of view that’s a hard thing to grasp.”

Tsandilas doesn’t smoke exclusively to target anxiety, and he doesn’t have a med card. He likes getting high, but no longer has the option to get high with friends in light of the pandemic, so he has considered giving weed up completely.

“In all honesty, if it wasn’t the month and the year that it is, I may have cut it out already. But the fact that it is 4/20/2020 this year?

“I struggle as a stoner to give up such a fantastic holiday.”