Many non-essential shops and services around the U.S. have temporarily closed for business in response to the social distancing recommendations meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The New York City metro area, the San Francisco Bay area, and the Seattle metro area are among the most populous centers in the U.S. that have seen widespread shutdowns and, in some cases, movement restrictions for the public.
But questions remain about what exactly constitutes an “essential service,” and whether marijuana dispensaries will be permitted to remain open.
In response, the medical marijuana patients’ advocacy nonprofit Americans for Safe Access has issued a plea to governors to ensure that patients are guaranteed the right to purchase medicine. The group’s list of eight requests includes ensuring that cannabis businesses are classified as “essential” during this period, permitting telehealth appointments for new and returning patients, and easing restrictions on curbside and delivery services.
While the last week has seen a huge surge in sales for both medical and adult-use customers, patients who rely on medical marijuana for pain, nausea, spasticity, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and many more conditions worry about how access might change in the coming weeks. Some patients living on a fixed income or experiencing financial hardship may not be able to stock up in advance.
Across the country, medical and adult-use dispensaries have chosen, or been required, to respond to the unprecedented global crisis in varied ways. But, as with other sectors of the economy, confusion and inconsistency is rife. In San Francisco, for instance, all cannabis businesses were ordered to shutter and discontinue delivery service on Tuesday, March 17th. By the afternoon of the same day, the order had been reversed.
Some cannabis dispensaries have adapted to social distancing protocols by:
Remaining open to the public while implementing stricter sanitation and social distancing measures
Serving only medical patients
Offering online orders and curbside pick-up
Shifting to delivery service where permitted—some jurisdictions have eased delivery regulations to meet patient needs
Closing temporarily to protect staff and customers