Cannabis Businesses Deemed “Essential” in California During COVID-19 Orders

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Photo: Noah Friedlander / CC BY-SA

READ A MESSAGE FROM NORML’S NATIONAL DIRECTOR ABOUT COVID-19, CANNABIS AND SAFETY

THIS STORY WILL BE UPDATED AS DEVELOPMENTS HAPPEN.

UPDATE 3/23/20: MONTEREY COUNTY AND AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY ASSOCIATIONS ENDORSE ADVISORY FOR AGRICULTURAL WORKER PROTECTION DURING COVID-19 CRISIS

3/21/20: California’s Dept. of Public Health has issued an order deeming cannabis retailer workers and workers supporting cannabis retail as “essential critical infrastructure workers” during the statewide coronavirus “stay at home” order.

The Bureau of Cannabis Control has issued a statement saying, “Because cannabis is an essential medicine for many residents, licensees may continue to operate at this time so long as their operations comply with local rules and regulations. Any licensee that continues to operate must adopt social distancing and anti-congregating measures and must follow the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease at all times.” The California Dept. of Food and Agriculture, which governs cannabis farms, put out the same statement to its licensees.

The Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch of the CDPH reiterated this message, and added, “To continue to ensure the integrity of products, it is important that employees handling cannabis or cannabis products continue to follow good manufacturing practices (GMPs), as required by regulation. GMPs include safe handling practices to prevent contamination, such as washing hands and work surfaces, wearing clean outer clothing, and any precautions necessary to prevent allergen cross-contact or other contamination…. please do what you can to limit exposure to other employees, and follow all social distancing and safety instructions provided by your local and state public health departments.” The department put out a poster summarizing their recommendations and requirements.

UPDATE 3/20/20: As Governor Newsom issued a “stay at home” order for all of California, his office has assured us that cannabis retailers are not included on his list of nonessential businesses that must close. County health departments and other local jurisdictions are also issuing orders. So far, Sonoma, Santa Cruz, Mendocino, Santa Clara, Alameda, and Los Angeles Counties, as well as San Francisco, have issued orders deeming cannabis businesses essential, with varying safety and other requirements.

Also see: CALIFORNIA CANNABIS: COVID-19 RETAIL & DELIVERY SAFETY & SANITATION PROTOCOLS

3/17/2020 – Cal NORML strongly objected to the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s action on Monday 3/16 to close down all cannabis stores and delivery services as “nonessential” services during the coronavirus outbreak. “Medical cannabis access is essential to many seriously ill patients who rely on it for the treatment of otherwise intractable conditions,” says Cal NORML Director Dale Gieringer.

Cannabis retailers in San Francisco received notice from Mohanned Malhi of the SFDPH yesterday, telling them they must shut down their businesses by 10 PM Monday night. The news brought a rush to purchase cannabis products, causing crowds, long lines, and less-safe conditions for customers and staffers. Cal NORML sent notice to its supporters in San Francisco, asking them to contact their supervisors.

At 4:28 PM on 3/17/2020, the SFDPH issued a tweet saying: “Cannabis is an essential medicine for many San Francisco residents. Dispensaries can continue to operate as essential businesses during this time, while practicing social distancing and other public health recommendations.”

“Research has shown that 80% of medical cannabis patients use medical cannabis to replace suboptimal or ineffective prescription drugs,” said Cal NORML board member and San Francisco resident David Goldman. “And there’s absolutely no excuse for banning deliveries.” Alameda County is allowing cannabis stores to remain open, as are Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

Also see: Coronavirus lockdown: Bay Area counties, cities differ on whether cannabis dispensaries are ‘essential’ businesses

“Medical cannabis dispensaries provide an essential service to the thousands of San Franciscans who rely on cannabis for relief from many serious illnesses,” said Kevin Reed of The Green Cross in SF. “The City’s Stay At Home FAQ says drug stores can operate, so we should also be allowed to continue to help people during this public health crisis.”

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney tweeted: “Cannabis Cannabis dispensaries should be able to stay open, for take out and delivery only, while keeping 6 feet of distance between customers. Yes it is legal for adult use in CA, it’s also still medicine for a lot of people.”

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman posted on Facebook in the afternoon on Tuesday, “I’ve heard from many cannabis consumers and businesses about the status of the city’s dispensaries as part of the COVID-19 Shelter in Place Order. I share their concerns and believe we must keep cannabis businesses open for the many San Franciscans who depend on them for their physical and mental health. Cannabis businesses should be treated the same as pharmacies and other essential businesses. I am working with the Department of Public Health, the Office of Cannabis and the Mayor’s Office to ensure continued access to cannabis in a way that maintains and supports public health.” Also helpful was Supervisor Dean Preston.

Cal NORML doesn’t object to Palm Springs and other locations closing down cannabis consumption rooms (akin to bars closing down) but especially for medical patients, safe and legal outlets for cannabis, including delivery access, are necessary. A great many patients in California have allowed their medical recommendations to lapse now that adult use is legal in California.

“Because the medical and recreational designations have been merged all down the supply chain in California, at this point almost all retailers and delivery services are recreational licensees that serve both the medical and adult markets,” said Ellen Komp, Cal NORML deputy director.  “So it’s important that recreational outlets be left open to serve medical patients, with safety measures put in place, such as emphasizing deliveries and curbside pick ups as preferred to in-store sales, and practicing social distancing.”

Until cannabis is also available in “essential” businesses like grocery stores and drug stores (like liquor is), the only places Californians can get a safe, tested supply of cannabis products for recreational use is through licensed retailers or delivery services. Coming on the heels of the VAPI crisis, this is something to take very seriously.

“We are happy that San Francisco took such quick action to reopen cannabis dispensaries,” said Komp. Thanks to all Cal NORML supporters who contacted their elected officials.

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