Covid-19: US states see cannabis dispensaries as a necessity
More and more states and local officials are saying that "essential" medical cannabis dispensaries are like pharmacies. Critical businesses can remain open even if non-essential businesses are forced to close to help contain coronavirus outbreaks.
Tacit declarations and approvals help medical cannabis companies, many of which feared they would have to close as COVID-19 containment measures increased.
By taking these steps, cannabis industry observers say regulators are placing medical cannabis companies in a special category above other traditional businesses such as restaurants, bars and shops.
Even temporary closings could be devastating for some cannabis companies, particularly for financially fragile businesses.
Many customers rely on cannabis products to relieve conditions such as chronic pain, severe epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, the recognition of medical cannabis dispensaries as “essential” is being done transparently across the country, and it is not certain that the courts will take this view.
Here are some examples :
- The State Department of Health New York said Tuesday that medical cannabis companies were essential.
- The Governor of Nevada, Steve Sisolak, has ordered all non-core businesses to close for 30 days starting at noon Wednesday. But regulators have said that licensed recreational cannabis stores and dispensaries are allowed to stay open as long as they adhere to strict social distancing protocols, according to guidelines released Wednesday. Licensees should not allow individuals to congregate, and consumers are strongly encouraged to use cannabis delivery services or to place orders online or by telephone.
- San Francisco Monday ordered the closure of non-core businesses, including all cannabis stores, but overturned the decision on Tuesday, saying the cannabis dispensaries could remain open, but only for pickup and delivery.
- A number of states across the country allow for the expansion of curbside delivery and pickup services, measures that cannabis companies see as a form of official recognition that dispensaries are an essential service.
- Rural communities, such as in the mountainous regions of Colorado, including Gunnison and Summit Counties, also allowed the marijuana dispensaries to remain open this week, while reducing non-essential activities and activities such as restaurants and bars.
- Legal sales increased 159% in California in one day.
Defense groups and medical experts are also urging government officials to allow the clinics to remain open.
For example, the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access sent a letter this week asking governors and state regulators to take immediate action to ensure medical cannabis services are not interrupted when governors create emergency plans against coronavirus.
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Harvard Medical School instructor Dr. Peter Grinspoon told the Boston Globe that, although he thinks Massachusetts should close as many businesses as possible, "We have to think very carefully about the fact that tens of thousands of people in (the state) are really addicted to cannabis as a medicine. Cutting them would mean "a disaster," he said.
Even cutting sales of recreational cannabis could cause serious disruption for some if no exceptions are made, according to industry officials. Indeed, many cannabis customers have not registered as medical weed patients but use products purchased from adult stores to treat medical conditions.
New York state health regulators said on Tuesday that licensed medical cannabis companies were "essential" services, allowed to stay open if non-essential companies were to close due to COVID-19.