As people across the US see their lives disrupted by the pandemic, many can at least still get their medical marijuana. On March 17, public health officials in San Francisco, which is under one of the country’s most stringent lockdowns, announced that mandatory restrictions on business activities and public gatherings would not apply to legal cannabis dispensaries.
“Cannabis is an essential medicine for many San Francisco residents,” the health department tweeted on March 17. “Dispensaries can continue to operate as essential businesses during this time, while practicing social distancing and other public health recommendations.”
On March 16, about 7 million residents of northern California began a mandatory “shelter-in-place” under official orders affecting San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Marin, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. The areas affected include the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, and major cities like Oakland and San José. Residents are ordered to stay home and avoid public spaces and businesses except for “essential activities” including visits to groceries, pharmacies, healthcare and banks.
The following day, a coalition of cannabis activists, businesses, consumers and patients circulated a Change.org petition petition calling on San Francisco Mayor London Breed to make sure no cannabis dispensaries were shut down. “Many San Francisco residents seek and depend on cannabis as an alternative medicine for the relief of various illnesses and symptoms,” the petition read. “Cannabis retailers should be considered essential businesses during this crisis.”
Over 2,000 people supported the petition, which pressured San Francisco authorities to concede. Neighboring counties like Alameda and Santa Clara are also allowing cannabis stores to stay open.
“This was probably the most collective push we’ve seen in the cannabis industry in a long time,” Bay Area cannabis community activist Nina Parks told Filter. “Everyone normally has their own agendas but this brought everyone together including industry folks, dispensary workers and patients that were concerned about how cannabis restrictions would affect them.”
Parks said that this action has prevented consumers being forced to purchase illicit cannabis products that may not have the same quality testing standards as legal product in stores. It also prevents price-gouging of cannabis products if supplies run too low, as has unfortunately been reported for products like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and bottled water. Finally, keeping all cannabis facilities open, including cultivators, has prevented mass quantities of product simply going to waste.
“We are simply complying with public health rules and guidelines to keep customers safe,” said Shawn Richard, who operates San Francisco’s first Black-owned cannabis dispensary, told Filter. “We’re using gloves, hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol. We have a three customers-at-a-time limit and are keeping everyone at least six feet apart, with taped markers so they can easily see.”
Richard’s store, like many others in the city, is giving customers the option to pre-order their cannabis online for pick-up at the store without even having to go inside. He also works with a third-party company that delivers product to people’s homes. Both Richard and Parks said it’s unclear yet if there has been a spike in cannabis deliveries due to the COVID-19 crisis.
“It’s important for people who have anxiety or psychological and emotional health issues to legally access their cannabis from stores,” Richard said. “This also keeps people in their homes and comfortable instead of out and about. It calms them down to keep them from causing any chaos or even violence.”
For people who use cannabis in groups, Parks offered some simple safety tips. “Don’t share bodily fluids,” she said. “Avoid sharing blunts or joints, but if you do, use your own mouthpiece. Clean your bongs with rubbing alcohol for at least 20 seconds. Wash your hands before and after grinding your weed or rolling up.”
Elsewhere around the US, most legal cannabis states are allowing cannabis stores to remain open with some restrictions. New Jersey’s medical cannabis stores are imposing some purchase limits and making patients wait in their cars before buying. Illinois is allowing curbside pickup.
States like Massachusetts, Michigan, and Oregon are encouraging deliveries over in-store purchases; one dispensary in Pennsylvania is hiring volunteers to deliver cannabis directly to patients’ homes. And Florida is allowing medical marijuana patients to re-certify their licenses over the phone without seeing a doctor in person.
As the crisis continues, many Americans who are adapting to disruptions and financial hardships, together with no NBA games, museums, movie theaters or gyms, can at least take comfort that officials are recognizing the medicinal and psychological value of cannabis in their lives.