Medical MJ Is An Essential Service Amid Shutdowns
We've come a long way, baby, since Harry J. Anslinger, the first director of the new Federal Bureau of Narcotics declared War on Weed in the 1930s.
No longer the "assassin of youth" portrayed in the 1936 shock film Reefer Madness, the supply of the all-American wild weed - also known as marijuana, cannabis, pot, grass, bud, and herb - has attained the status of an essential service.
Business shutdowns and bans on mass gatherings caused by the spreading Wuhan novel coronavirus are separating the "must-have" enterprises from those that are merely convenient. In the latter category fall many retail operations and hospitality concessions.
Across the United States, municipal and state health departments have affirmed that medical marijuana dispensaries are "essential" businesses on a par with pharmacies and grocery stores. All will keep their doors open as other stores are shuttered during a temporary quarantine to slow the respiratory disease.
On March 17, the San Francisco Bay Area in California had 329 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The day before, San Jose in Santa Clara County had issued a shelter-in-place order:
ORDER OF THE HEALTH OFFICER OF THE COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA DIRECTING ALL INDIVIDUALS LIVING IN THE COUNTY TO SHELTER AT THEIR PLACE OF RESIDENCE EXCEPT THAT THEY MAY LEAVE TO PROVIDE OR RECEIVE CERTAIN ESSENTIAL SERVICES OR ENGAGE IN CERTAIN ESSENTIAL ACTIVITIES AND WORK FOR ESSENTIAL BUSINESSES AND GOVERNMENTAL SERVICES; EXEMPTING INDIVIDUALS EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS FROM THE SHELTER IN PLACE ORDER BUT URGING THEM TO FIND SHELTER AND GOVERNMENT AGENCIES TO PROVIDE IT; DIRECTING ALL BUSINESSES AND GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES TO CEASE NON-ESSENTIAL OPERATIONS AT PHYSICAL LOCATIONS IN THE COUNTY; PROHIBITING ALL NON ESSENTIAL GATHERINGS OF ANY NUMBER OF INDIVIDUALS; AND ORDERING CESSATION OF ALL NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL
Breaking this emergency law is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment or both.
The intent behind the mandated quarantine Order is "to ensure that the maximum number of people self-isolate in their places of residence to the maximum extent feasible, while enabling essential services to continue, to slow the spread of COVID-19 to the maximum extent possible."
San Jose's Emergency Public Informations Officer explained why medical pot shops will remain open during the lockdown:
"The county order includes a description of 'Essential Businesses' which lists 'Healthcare Operations.' The City interprets 'Healthcare Operations' as including medical cannabis. Essential Businesses in San Jose are allowed and encouraged to remain open and shall comply with the Order's Social Distancing Requirements."
The Social Distancing Requirements include the following safe health practices:
- Stay at least six feet away from other people
- Wash hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds as frequently as possible or use hand sanitizer
- Cover coughs or sneezes (into the sleeve or elbow, not hands)
- Clean regularly high-touch surfaces
- Do not shake hands
In San Jose, essential services include healthcare operations, food cultivation, businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, media services, gas stations and auto repair facilities, banks, hardware stores, tradespeople, mailing and shipping businesses, schools, laundries, and food services that operate only for delivery or carry-out.
The San Jose self-quarantine will last until 11:59 pm on April 7 or until it is extended, rescinded, superseded or amended in writing by the Health Officer.
All Washington state marijuana stores have been allowed to remain open during the COVID-19 quarantine. The Evergreen State's Liquor and Cannabis Board is permitting licensed cannabis dispensaries whose products are medically compliant to provide patients with curbside service to promote social distancing.
Legal dispensaries are allowed, temporarily, to sell to qualified patients outside the walls of their stores but "within the licensed property line." Washington dispensaries are prohibited from operating drive-through windows.
New York Department of Health regulators have beefed up safety and health protocols for registered medical MJ businesses. To protect both sides of a sales transaction from possible exposure to COVID-19, the new rules include:
- Allowing operators to dispense from the doors of their facilities, provided all exchanges are on camera and patient ID cards are validated
- Permitting operators to expand home delivery without prior approval until April 16 (for those already approved for home delivery)
- Recommendation that delivery drivers wear masks and gloves and use their own pens for signatures
- Encouraging businesses to have MMJ patients set up appointments in order to limit customers and avoid overcrowding in dispensaries
A spokesperson for the New York State Health Department confirmed that medical cannabis is a need, not a want:
"In the event nonessential businesses are forced to shut down due to COVID-19, registered organizations in the medical marijuana program will be considered essential and allowed to remain open because they are considered medical providers."
Michigan, Illinois, and Massachusetts have also enacted short-term regulations that loosen the legal limits on delivery and in-store transactions to further reduce physical contact between patients and staffers.