By / March 25, 2020

Medical cannabis dispensaries considered essential by the U.S. authorities

More and more states and local authorities in the U.S. are now declaring medical cannabis dispensaries as “essential” services. The question was whether these establishments should be closed, since initially, only businesses considered “essential”, such as pharmacies and supermarkets, could remain open, forcing non-essential businesses to close.

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The recognition of cannabis as an “essential good” by the authorities represents a relief for the medical cannabis business, many of which feared closure, while the containment measures of COVID-19 have become more restricted. With these measures, analysts of the cannabis industry think that regulators are placing medical cannabis companies in a special category, above other conventional businesses such as restaurants, bars, and shops.

“It’s not acceptable that other pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS remain open while cannabis dispensaries have to close,” said Jason Erkes, a spokesman for Cresco Labs, an Illinois-based multi-state operator. “I think this is something that municipalities (and states) are taking into consideration,” he added.

Many clients rely on medical cannabis products to relieve pains caused by different medical conditions such as chronic diseases, epilepsy, and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, there is no way to predict how many jurisdictions will adopt similar measures.

Even temporary closures can be devastating for some cannabis companies, especially for the most fragile businesses.

U.S states give medical cannabis dispensaries the green light

At a time of “isolation” in the U.S. and around the world, these are some examples of official and tacit recognition of dispensaries as essential services:

  • The New York State Health Department stated on Tuesday, March 17th, that the medical cannabis business is essential.
  • The Governor of Nevada, Steve Sisolak, has ordered all non-essential business to be closed for 30 days from noon on Wednesday, March 18th. However, regulators said licensed recreational cannabis stores and medical cannabis dispensaries are allowed to remain open, provided they adhere to strict social distancing protocols. License holders should not allow individuals to meet with consumers encouraged to use delivery services or complete their orders online or by phone.
  • On Monday, March 16th, the city of San Francisco demanded the closure of non-essential businesses, including all cannabis stores, but reversed the decision on Tuesday, March 17th, claiming that cannabis dispensaries may remain open, but only for collection and delivery purposes.
  • Several states are allowing the expansion of cannabis delivery services. Cannabis business considers that strategy a form of official recognition that medical cannabis dispensaries become an essential service.
  • Some rural communities, such as the mountainous areas of Colorado, including Gunnison and Summit counties, have also allowed cannabis dispensaries to remain open while reducing the number of businesses and non-core activities such as catering.

Experts agree on the next steps for medical cannabis during the pandemic

Some medical cannabis advocacy groups and medical experts also insisted that government authorities should allow medical cannabis dispensaries to remain open.

For example, the medical cannabis advocacy group ‘Americans for Safe Access’ sent a letter last week requesting that governors and state regulators take immediate action to ensure that medical cannabis services are not disrupted in the emergency plans being put in place.

Dr. Peter Grinspoon, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, also said that while he believed Massachusetts should close as much business as possible, “we need to think very carefully about the fact that ten thousand people (within the state) are truly dependent on cannabis as a medicine. To deprive them of that would be a disaster,” Grinspoon said.

According to some cannabis industry sources, the reduction in recreational sales may cause a number of market disturbances if certain exceptions are not taken into account. That is because many customers are not registered as medical cannabis patients, although they use products from adult shops to treat health conditions.


(Featured image by Alex Person on Unsplash)

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