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The Impact of COVID-19 on The Medical Cannabis Industry

Leslie kahn

To say this is a trying time for humanity is a gross understatement. I hope you are all staying safe and healthy by practicing social distancing, washing your hands well and using cannabis to get through this pandemic. In this article I will be discussing how COVID-19 is impacting the cannabis industry and posting best practices to keep patients healthy.

This pandemic is impacting every aspect of our lives and of course, it is affecting the cannabis industry. The good news is that in most states, medical cannabis dispensaries, cultivation and production centers and testing laboratories are considered to be “essential services.” As we are all aware, medical cannabis patients all have underlying medical conditions. They are very much at risk from catching the virus and from experiencing serious health complications if they do contract it.

Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission Update

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission is currently processing and approving new patient applications without any delays.

Stay Safe By Not Sharing With Others

I cannot stress this enough. We all have to change our behavior and for the time being, please don’t share your cannabis with anyone else. I know this goes against the norms of cannabis usage which has always involved social interaction. Clearly, the fact that COVID-19 is so very contagious and spreads so quickly means that, for the time being, you are going to have to keep all joints, pipes, bongs and dab rigs to yourself. There can be no more gatherings to enjoy cannabis-infused meals unless you do so virtually. Also, since the virus essentially causes respiratory distress which often turns into pneumonia, it is highly recommended that patients do not vape. Vaping not only increases the risk for COVID-19 infection, but it also increases the likelihood of a more severe case, if contracted.

Recommended Delivery Methods

In fact, you should also avoid smoking. Edibles, ingestible oils, tinctures, topicals and transdermal patches are all much safer delivery methods…and don’t forget about suppositories!

Changes in Dispensary Operations

Here are several examples of changes that are being implemented in medical cannabis dispensaries across the country:

Social Distancing Must Be Maintained

Patients and caregivers must not come within 6 feet of any other patrons. If necessary to maintain this distance, dispensary staff may need to move the lines of patients outside of the dispensary. They may also need to shut down some point-of-sale systems, minimize crowding and reduce the time that patrons spend inside the dispensary. This can be accomplished by using online ordering and curbside pickup.

Some dual medical/recreational dispensaries have suspended recreational sales for the time being. This protects medical cannabis patients and assures that there is enough product for their needs. This is crucial in states where there is often a lack of supply, especially flower.

Sanitary Practices

1. Dispensary workers are required to engage in frequent hand washing with disinfectant hand soap and must be allowed breaks to do so.
2. Every thirty minutes, any surfaces that are touched by patients, which include ordering tablets and door handles, must be disinfected.
3. Throughout the day, all other surfaces must be disinfected. These include counter tops, computer screens and keyboards, railings and bathrooms. 
4. Dispensaries are encouraged to post their sanitation protocols in a highly visible place to reassure patients and caregivers that everything possible is being done to keep them safe.
5. Inspectors will be watching the cameras on a daily basis to ensure that all dispensaries are in compliance with social distances and sanitary practices. 

Other Safety Precautions Being Implemented 

1. Examinations for medical cannabis certification may be done through telemedicine until further notice.
2. Sale of medical cannabis may now be purchased outside the building. This is a big change from state regulations that mandated that all purchases be made inside dispensaries and in specific designated areas.
3. Patients and caregivers are not required to hand their card to an agent to be scanned, although their card must be scanned prior to purchase in order to track the purchase.
4. All agents must wear gloves when handling cash. As most of you know, cash is full of germs!
5. Exchange of cash for product must take place on the dispensary’s property, on a public walkway or at the curbside, adjacent to the dispensary.
6. Cash is taken into the dispensary after each transaction.
7. A security officer must be present when there is an exchange of cash for product outside the doors of the dispensary.

Huge Uptick In Sales 

Many dispensaries across the country saw a huge uptick in sales over the past few weeks, surpassing the number of sales on a typical 4/20. Many people are stocking up on cannabis purchases for the following reasons:

1. Purchasing their entire allotment for the month reduces their exposure to the virus by avoiding multiple trips to dispensaries
2. Now that patients are confined to their homes, they want to make sure that they have enough medicine to treat their medical conditions as well as getting them through the social isolation. Many patients view cannabis as the best medicine to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, especially during a pandemic.  
3. Many medical patients are anticipating a supply chain scarcity. Another concern is that a reduction in the workers involved in harvesting and extraction methods may slow down the supply chain.

Finally, the folks at the Marijuana Policy Project have urged state regulators to facilitate the rapid hiring of staff in the event of shortages due to the pandemic. This would mean the waiving of standard requirements such as identification cards.

Changes are happening on a daily basis, making it difficult to keep up! Stay health all!, Illinois Cannabis Industry Deemed Essential During Coronavirus, Jonah Meadows, March 21, 2020, How The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Affect The Cannabis Industry, Kris Krane, March 18, 2020, Coronavirus Crisis Shows Marijuana Is “Essential” and Mainstream, Tom Angell, March 23, 2020, It’s Not Just Toilet Paper and Sanitizer: Consumers Are Also Stocking Up on Cannabis, Joan Oleck, March 19, 2020, Cannabis Regulators Respond To Coronavirus Concerns, Emma Stone, March 19, 2020