Cannabis Activists: Keep Pot Shops Open for Patients During Coronavirus Pandemic

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In an effort to ensure that medical cannabis patients are able to access their medicine amidst store closures and city shutdowns enacted in response to the coronavirus pandemic, one cannabis advocacy group is strongly urging the governors of all legal cannabis states to ascribe “essential” status to dispensaries, as well as enact social distancing-friendly emergency procedures.

According to a report from Marijuana Moment’s Ben Aldin, the cannabis non-profit Americans for Safe Access sent a stern letter to the governors of every state with a medical cannabis program, laying out an eight-point plan. It recommended that they keep cannabis dispensaries, cultivators, and distributors open during pandemic quarantines, adjust state-specific medical marijuana laws to include delivery, curbside pick-up, or other low-contact sales options, and to expand caregiver and certification renewal programs, especially online.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, and states across the US continue to shutter businesses and encourage citizens to stay inside, Americans For Safe Access has made a point to track the changing status of cannabis business across legal states and fight for the rights of patients.

“In light of the current state of COVID-19 and the CDC’s actions, Americans for Safe Access has been monitoring the situation to make sure that medical cannabis patients are not forgotten,” ASA Founder and President Steph Sherer said in a press release. “We want to ensure that dispensaries are seen as essential businesses that will remain open for patients. We applaud states that have already put emergency precautions into action, and we will keep patients and the public updated on any future developments through our COVID-19 response page.”

So far, a number of states have already followed suit, with many regulators ascribing essential status to dispensaries. Other states like Illinois and Michigan, however, are going a step further by push-starting emergency curbside dropoff and expanded delivery options. In California, the city of San Francisco initially moved to close dispensaries early this week, but subsequently changed face and re-opened pot shops. San Francisco is now exploring curbside and delivery-only options for medical patients. 

Here at MERRY JANE, there is no doubt that in our minds that medical cannabis is an essential need in the growing crisis — after all, this is what we’ve fought so long and hard for. But because so many of the industry’s patients and dispensary employees often include elderly, sick, and vulnerable populations that are considered high risk in the face of coronavirus, it is also gravely important that access does not supersede safety

For dispensaries, that will mean significantly changing business operations protocols, caring for employees with disabilities or illnesses, offering hazard pay and time off if possible, reducing the number of people allowed on site at one time, and a general willingness to sacrifice profit for the sake of patient and employee safety. 

If cannabis dispensaries are given status as medical facilities, it is time to make sure they are operated as such, across the board. For patients, it will mean taking extra precautions and being considerate of the community. Are there patients who might need a limited product more than you? Is it morally justifiable to wait in a long line or busy waiting room if you can feasibly come back another day? How much can you afford to tip? These are questions we will all have to ask ourselves before leaving the house. 

And finally, for individual states and their regulatory bodies, the crisis will call for immediate emergency changes. Home delivery is now a necessity for all legal cannabis programs. Vulnerable patients will need the ability to use an emergency caregiver to access products. Likewise, expanded home cultivation laws in every state could have already alleviated the supply issues dispensaries are now facing, and should be put in place as a safety net for the unforeseeable future.

The cannabis community is one the country’s most resilient cultures, and there is no question that we will get through this turbulent and terrifying time. But to do so in a way that doesn’t destroy the industry or harms medical patients will take compasion, care, and thoughtfulness from every corner of the industry.  

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