Amid a Global Pandemic, the Cannabis Industry Adapts

"People need access to legal, regulated cannabis, and if they don't get it from legal, regulated stores, they're going to get it from somewhere else..."

Blooming cannabis plant close up Source: iStock

Since the pandemic engulfed large swaths of Washington State before overwhelming New York, local officials across the nation have adapted.

And a notable handful have kept their marijuana shops on the tops of their priority list, even as the federal government has all but forgotten them.  

In California, the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control deployed an emergency rule and started allowing dispensaries to volunteer to sell marijuana on the curbs outside their shops, which was forbidden until now to keep it as far away from children and older teens as possible.

And at the end of last week, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) followed suit and then some: He mandated curbside pickup for marijuana at his state’s dispensaries.

Steps like that are vital for cannabis companies. It’s not just to protect their workers from clients who may have the virus (and vice a versa); but also to protect the name of this newly, yet still slowly, normalizing industry that’s just starting to flourish and thrive in red, blue, purple and politically indifferent regions alike.

“It’s absolutely critical that cannabis companies hold themselves to the highest standard right now, so that way we don’t have one bad apple spoil the bunch,” Justin Strekal, of that cannabis advocacy group NORML, told Wikileaf.

“It is absolutely crucial that the cannabis industry hold themselves to the highest of standards right now to protect public health, to not be a distraction as our nation now mobilizes to confront this pandemic through every sector of the economy.”  

So even as the federal government continues to view marijuana as some illicit substance, state and local officials on the ground have had to pick up the slack. They know their residents will get the marijuana they so obviously want (and actually desperately need for medicinal reasons) one way or another, which millions of Americans have been doing since Richard Nixon kicked off his failed war on “drugs” anyway.

That’s why now is seen as the time to make sure it’s as safe as possible, even if the federal government keeps making it harder for these companies to normalize.  

“People need access to legal, regulated cannabis, and if they don’t get it from legal, regulated stores, they’re going to get it from somewhere else and [unregulated weed is] just going to increase public safety and health issues,” Morgan Fox, Media Relations Director for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told Wikileaf.

The nation’s patchwork of even recreationally legal cannabis states – along with all of their unique and disparate laws – is also a complicating factor. So while people like me in Washington (i.e. the nation’s capital) can legally grow up to six plants per adult in a household, a coast away from us, in Washington state, recreational cannabis laws forbid homegrown marijuana unless a company has a permit or if a patient has a medicinal license.

Now that almost all of us are being forced to quarantine, the lack of ability to even grow marijuana on one’s own property looks to be a massive shortfall.  

“It’s really important,” Fox said. “Obviously, the focus is on patients and making sure that there’s continued access for the people that actually need cannabis the most for their health care situations.”

But in recent years, as marijuana rapidly became as legal as liquor in more than one fifth of the nation, many states just folded their medicinal cannabis programs into their new recreational systems.

That means someone with, say, cancer who relies on cannabis to ease their pain while also using it to work up an appetite, is no longer recognized by the system as someone who needs their flower more than someone who tokes recreationally. In a pandemic, which we now all have found ourselves in, that’s problematic.

“So there’s no longer technically ‘patients,’ and it’s impossible to distinguish them on a legal basis,” Fox explained.  

With millions of Americans stuck at home in close quarters, there’s also fear of increased alcohol consumption, which statistics show also means increased domestic violence. That’s why many advocates say the federal government should be looking at data and studies that show cannabis is far less harmful than booze.

“There should be a safer option than alcohol for people that are stuck in their houses for so long,” Fox said. “I mean, clearly alcohol has associations with aggression and domestic violence and things like that, and cannabis does not. If people are stuck in their houses for, you know, weeks and months at a time, I think that we should be really considering the fact we might see some huge spikes in domestic violence issues if they don’t have access to cannabis.”

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