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Cannabis Dispensaries Deemed “Essential” – Allowed To Stay Open While Other Businesses Are Forced To Close

cannabis dispensaries
Written by Alexandra Hicks

As coronavirus sweeps across the nation and state after state is implementing mandatory “lockdown” and “stay-at-home” orders, many feared they wouldn’t be able to get cannabis anymore in the coming days.

Luckily, nearly every state with a medical or recreational cannabis program has deemed these businesses to be “essential”, among the likes of pharmacies, grocery stores, hardware stores, and select city and government services. As long as they observe proper social-distancing guidelines and do not include more than 10 people in one place, cannabis dispensaries can continue to operate while companies from other industries are forced to close their doors.

For example, in a press release from the City of Los Angeles, “cannabis dispensaries, or any related and/or ancillary healthcare services” are listed as essential healthcare services. As Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a Harvard Medical School instructor, said in an interview with the Boston Globe, “we need to think very carefully about the fact that tens of thousands of people (in the state) truly depend on cannabis as a medicine.” Cutting them off would mark “a disaster,” he said.

Even shutting down recreational sales could be extremely disruptive for the industry considering many people in legal states just skip the medical license altogether and use cannabis from recreational dispensaries to “self-medicate” and treat their ailments.

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An Essential Service

Rather than closing the doors to cannabis dispensaries in the numerous states that have medical or recreational programs, health officials have categorized these businesses as essential – alongside grocery stores, pharmacies, and banks. That means their services are needed and expected to continue throughout the duration of the lock-down. NORML executive director Eric Altieri commended the actions of these state and local governments for designating cannabis facilities as “essential” for public health.

“There are several million state-licensed medical cannabis patients in America,” he mentioned. Since many of these patients are among the most-vulnerable populations, it is essential threat they maintain un-interrupted, regulated access to lab-tested products during this time.” Additionally, the long-term position at NORML has been the need for state laws to recognize and permit patients to engage in personal cultivation…. consistent known supply of their medicine, and that their access remains affordable.”

Storefronts will be taking extra precautions to keep customers safe and healthy such as limiting the number of people in the lobby and back rooms, cleaning the displays, doors, and counters after every interaction, and taking in-bound forehead temperature readings. NORML said it will “strongly encourage dispensaries to be mindful of their patients’ needs and income limitations and, whenever possible, to price their products accordingly so patients and the elderly can continue to engage in social distancing.” 

Common Uses for Medical Cannabis

Although the idea of medical cannabis in western medicine is a relatively new and progressive concept, personal use dates back thousands of years. Although it went though a long period of stigma and prohibition, today, in the United States and many other countries, cannabis products have become relatively mainstream and dispensaries can be found all over the country.

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As of July 2019, there are an estimated 3,099,934 state-legal medical cannabis patients in the U.S. alone, and millions more across the globe. Because cannabinoids interact with various specific receptors throughout our bodies, cannabis and hemp can treat a very diverse range of conditions including pain, insomnia, appetite, depression, epilepsy, anxiety, cancer, glaucoma, and so much more.

As far as recreational cannabis goes, it’s the most commonly used “illicit” drug in the world. In the United States, there are roughly 55 million cannabis users. The most common way to consume cannabis to smoke it, but products have come a long way and these days you can find everything from food, to drinks, to topicals and beyond, all infused with cannabinoids.

Business is Booming

As state and local officials have been urging Americans to stay home, the weekend of March 14th and 15th saw cannabis dispensary traffic as high as during 4/20 week, with numerous dispensaries reporting up to 4 times as many sales as normal.

At first, everyone descended upon the storefronts. At Herbarium in Los Angeles, patrons were offered convenient pick up options, free delivery, and every order came with a stylish black facemask, to help increase awareness of the coronavirus epidemic.

According to Breanna Lucier, a spokeswoman for the dispensary, “There are two reasons for all the customers you see in here right now. One is that people are stocking up on all the things they consider essential after being advised to stay indoors. The other reason — people don’t want to care about coronavirus or watch upsetting news about it on television,” she said. “Instead, they just want to chill out with Netflix and some weed.”

Recent date from Headset shows that during that same weekend, sales in Washington were up 23% to 35%, despite the state being the epicenter for U.S. coronavirus cases. Additionally, the average amount spent per transaction rose as well, to $33.70, plus tax.

Michigan dispensary owners echoed the same sentiment, and many have written to Governor Gretchen Witmer to request that she immediately expand consumer access to cannabis services including more delivery options, relaxed criteria for medical cardholder renewals as well as new patient approvals.

Gearing Up for Home Deliveries

While it’s great news that we’ll be able to continue buying cannabis, it does pose one obvious dilemma. Just like the insane crowds at grocery stores and markets, having a higher than average number of people inside the confined space of a dispensary doesn’t do much to stop the spread of infectious, airborne diseases.

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That said, delivery and pick up dispensaries are now seeing influx of sales. According to sales associates as Mile High Supply in Temecula, CA, people have been ordering in droves, stocking up for a possibly extending stay in their homes. They’re getting as much as 30-40% more orders.

When shopping on weedmaps earlier this week (which, by the way, you can now make complete orders through the app and just sit back and wait for your delivery), a pop-up warned that “retailers are experiencing higher than average call volume and ETAs.” So, hopefully everyone will remain patient with their favorite cannabis dispensaries during these different times.

Witmer’s administration has already allowed “curb-service” delivery to Michigan customers who use online ordering systems. The state will also begin allowing medical cannabis recommendations to be handled via “tele-medicine”, like it has already been done in other states like California for years. Sites like nuggmd and prestodoctor will likely see an uptick in scheduling.

Final Thoughts

So, I guess after all this time, we can feel validated. For many people cannabis isn’t just a want, it’s a need – as much so as any other medication, supplement, or vitamin that people use to maintain their health and quality of life.

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About the author

Alexandra Hicks

Managing editor at Cannadelics and U.S based journalist, helping spread the word about the many benefits of using cannabis and psychedelics.