Will President Biden’s Vaccine Mandate Apply to Cannabis Businesses?

At least some businesses in the cannabis industry will be affected, it seems.

Covid-19 Vaccination Record Card

Right now, 175 million Americans are fully vaccinated. But another 80 million who are eligible have not gotten their first shot. President Joe Biden is taking steps to change that.

The Six-Pronged Strategy

President Biden recently announced what he’s calling a “six-pronged, comprehensive national strategy” that the administration says uses a science-based approach to combat the spread of COVID-19. The goal is to keep things from locking down again, and the President feels the best way to do that is through vaccinations. In some cases, people will be able to get weekly coronavirus tests, rather than get the vaccine; in other situations, they will not have a choice.

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The White house explained the reason it’s pushing so hard for vaccinations is because, put simply, they work. In its COVID plan, the White House states,

“Recent data indicates there is only 1 confirmed positive case per 5,000 fully vaccinated Americans per week.”

How it Could Apply

The biggest shock to come out of the announcement about this strategy is that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will now require all employers with 100 or more employees to either require every worker to be vaccinated, or require weekly testing for workers who are not vaccinated. However, how a company’s employees will be counted is unclear. In the cannabis industry, one company may hold separate licenses for completely different aspects of the business, where the employees in each sector don’t necessarily interact. Rather than having 100 people in one building, there could be some who work in a dispensary, some involved with marketing, some responsible for cultivation, others focused on packaging, and still others focused exclusively on corporate dealings. It’s unclear whether OSHA would view those as separate business entities, or as a singular franchise that would then meet President Biden’s standards for the vaccine mandate. Many businesses are small and wouldn’t meet the 100-employee threshold even if all workers at each level of the industry were combined into one group.

Some have proposed that there could be a geographic requirement for who would be counted among employees for the same business, like there is with the Family medical Leave Act. That law is specific to companies with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. Alternatively, things could go in the opposite direction, meaning the vaccine mandate would apply to all employees across the nation who fall under the same parent company, even if their individual businesses are different.

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Under the six-pronged strategy, anyone who works for the federal government or those who contract with the federal government must be vaccinated; there’s no testing option for those sectors. The same is true for most healthcare workers: any worker in a healthcare setting that receives Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement must get a vaccine. That extends even to clinical staff, volunteers, and even staff who are not involved in direct care for patients, residents, or clients. Since dispensaries aren’t able to take insurance because marijuana remains prohibited at the federal level, the healthcare worker vaccine mandate will likely not apply to the marijuana industry.

How Vaccinations Have Affected the Marijuana Industry So Far

The pandemic was a rollercoaster ride for the marijuana industry. At first, as people were home more, they started buying up more weed. Then, sales took a huge hit as people tried to conserve money and businesses tried to adapt to the ever-changing demands and restrictions put in place to attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In time, as stimulus checks and unemployment benefits started being sent out, things started to improve; after a while, the industry turned out to be quite successful through the pandemic.

People within the cannabis industry had early access to vaccines. In California, for instance, because they were considered essential workers, they were given access to their vaccine doses before teachers.

Dispensaries adapted to drive-up sales and in time were allowed to have a limited number of people within the store. Deliveries of marijuana increased immensely.

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The Rest of the Plan

Mandating vaccinations isn’t the entirety of the Biden Administration’s strategy for combating COVID-19. The six prongs are as follows:

  1. Vaccinating the unvaccinated
    1. Details on this above
  2. Further protecting the unvaccinated
    1. The Biden Administration is also pushing for booster shots, which will begin the week of September 20th. Those will be available in 80,000 different locations nationwide, from doctors’ offices and pharmacies to health centers.
      1. “A booster promises to give Americans their highest level of protection yet. Three-shot vaccines are common (Hepatitis B, Tetanus) and offer some of the most durable and robust protection,” the White House argued.
  3. Keeping schools safely open
    1. The Biden Administration dedicated $130 billion in the American Rescue Plan to go toward schools with the following goals:
      1. “Help schools reopen, accelerate students’ academic growth, address inequities exacerbated by the pandemic, allow local school districts to implement CDC-recommended COVID-19 prevention strategies, and support student and educators’ social, emotional, and mental health needs.”
  4. Increasing testing and requiring masking
    1. The Biden Administration is investing in rapid tests and encouraging the use of at-home coronavirus tests, which you can get over the counter. It’s making at-home tests more affordable and sending them to food banks and community health centers for free.
    2. Masking is still required on federal property and interstate travel.
  5. Protecting our economic recovery
    1. The Administration is focusing on avoiding lockdowns and getting the economy back up and running with new jobs. It’s also offering support to small businesses, explaining, “Supporting small businesses is critical to our economic growth, since they create two-thirds of net new jobs and employ nearly half of America’s private workforce.”
      1. The White House is streamlining PPP loans and strengthening the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
  6. Improving care for those with COVID-19
    1. The White House is trying to get more people on the ground to treat those infected with COVID-19, and has helped to add more ventilators and ambulances into the healthcare system. It’s also investing in monoclonal antibody treatments.
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