The coronavirus pandemic has created a bizarre landscape for the first year of this new decade. It has thrown everyone in the world a major curveball, and unprecedented crises are arising for businesses and industries everywhere. Temporary closure of nearly every aspect of daily life is killing the economy. Yet, it is necessary to flatten the curve.
Liquor stores are open but most of them, especially in larger cities, also serve their community as a local market to pick up the essentials without having to head to the grocery store when they need toilet paper or run out of milk.
So, what about dispensaries and cannabis retailers? Well, it depends on where you live.
You might already be familiar with the problematic road cannabis dispensaries have already faced opening their doors. These business owners are scrambling again to figure out what they are allowed and not allowed to do during coronavirus stay-at-home orders.
It is hard to define cannabis sellers as essential in an industry that does not have a clear definition in the health and business realms in the first place.
Should a dispensary be considered an essential business?
The legal cannabis world is a tough industry to figure out. Each state faces scrutiny and unique challenges. Not to mention the fact that it is still not federally legal in any capacity.
Every state that has legalized the sale and consumption of medicinal and recreational cannabis has done so in varying degrees. Some are very strict, and only under certain conditions is legal bud attainable. While in other states, you can find pot shops on every block.
So, how do we define cannabis in the surreal and uncertain reality in which we are currently living? Is it essential?
Here is how some states are handling dispensaries during COVID-19.
MJ Biz Daily's map (linked here) shows every state that has recreational and medical licenses to dispense cannabis legally. Just as each state's stay-at-home orders differ slightly (or drastically, in some cases) from the next, so does the language they use to define a dispensary.
In many cases, dispensaries are entirely left out of the orders. They are unspecified, allowing room for more confusion and inconsistency. Most medical-only states do mention marijuana as an "essential part of the health sector" like in Florida, "compassion centers" in New Hampshire, and "life-sustaining businesses" in Pennsylvania.
States with legal recreational sales are also vague in defining whether the shops are, in fact, essential, according to state-by-state reporting.
For example, Oregon doesn't mention cannabis as an "essential" specifically because the Liquor Control Commission controls the industry there. The commission has issued a temporary rule to allow licensed marijuana retailers to provide curbside service for online orders, but that's it.
Colorado, Michigan, and Nevada all consider both medical and recreational marijuana businesses essential and can continue operating. However, there are stipulations for shops that are recreational only. Those retailers in these states are limited to curbside services and home deliveries only.
Medical dispensaries in these three states can fully function. Still, they must practice social distancing by restricting the number of customers and employees in a facility at one time.
Is California leading the way for cannabis use during quarantine?
California is allowing every state-licensed cannabis company or dispensary to remain open for operations. However, social distancing guidelines determined by the state must be followed, including limited access and capacity.
Gavin Newsom was the first governor to place a "Safer at Home" order in the country and made it a point to consider medical cannabis companies as something similar to a regular pharmacy.
People depend on medical cannabis, both THC and CBD, to treat underlying conditions and other ailments that also make them more susceptible to COVID-19. Taking these treatments away from folks who need them will be more harmful than helpful.
Recreational cannabis stores also made the cut in California to prevent those users from turning to the black market to find their supply. Desperately needed state revenue would be lost if recreational cannabis sales stopped, which would make it even harder to recover financially after this is all over.
Other states take a different turn to prevent the spread.
Massachusetts has shut down all recreational cannabis operations to stop people in other New England states from traveling there to pick up. This was done to prevent the chance of spreading the virus even more between states.
Illinois also has stopped recreational cannabis from being sold. However, medical marijuana is still considered essential and available for online orders and delivery, just as Massachusetts.
Click here for a break down of every state that is licensed either medically, recreationally, or both.
Are cannabis retailers considered an "essential" business?
Clearly, we are still in very murky waters when it comes to cannabis, even in states where it is legal for medical and recreational.
There obviously isn't a hard yes or no answer either way. As with cannabis sales pre-coronavirus, it is still up to the discretion of each state's government head honchos.
Some states have gone back and forth or purposefully left the language vague in regards to how essential cannabis companies are. The best thing you can do to figure out if your state is cannabis-friendly during COVID-19 is to do a little research. Google stay-at-home orders for your state and consult with your local dispensaries.
Overall, it appears that cannabis companies, especially those offering medical marijuana, are considered essential by the states that have legalized its usage.
Be safe and smoke on.
If your state does allow you to visit your local dispensary or pot shop, be sure to adhere to all social distancing guidelines. If you can, let your store deliver to you or use curbside pickup options!
Quarantine isn't fun for anyone, but if you can smoke a little to ease the burden and stress of this crisis, do it safely and enjoy it. So stay home, wash your hand, and chill.
Sources used and linked in this article include MJ Biz Daily, Market Watch, NY Times, ABC News, and CNN.