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Coronavirus: Is Cannabis an Essential Business Right Now?

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As we’re in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak, there is a lot of discussion over what’s essential versus non-essential in the business world.

Many local and state officials are putting in place measures to slow the movement of people, and in doing so, they’re outlining their own guidelines for non-essential and essential business.


Essential businesses are those that are deemed necessary enough that they can stay open, and they don’t have to follow stay-at-home mandates.

One area of discussion within that essential vs. non-essential mandate is where cannabis shops fall into the equation.

Of course, that’s not an issue in all states where there isn’t legal marijuana, but some states are left answering that question, and it seems they’re erring on the side of the argument that perhaps cannabis shops are an essential service.

Where Is Cannabis Legal?

It can be interesting to look at how varied the views are in America between states. For example, some states around the country don’t allow for marijuana use at all, while others have legalized medical and recreational marijuana use and are now making the call that these are essential businesses.

As of January 2020, adult cannabis use is legal in 11 states and Washington, D.C.

In most of the places where recreational adult use is legal, it started with medical use.

Adult-use cannabis is legal in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Washington State, among others.

Medical marijuana use is legal in 23 states.

In states with medical marijuana use, programs require that you sign up for identification or a card so that you can then buy medical marijuana at a retailer or dispensary that’s approved by the state.

Cannabis use is still illegal under federal law, it’s worth noting.

Some states such as Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee still have strict legal penalties for marijuana use.

Marijuana Policy Project

This brings us back to the essential/non-essential debate.

Marijuana Policy Project, which is an organization that focuses on cannabis legalization, has written open letters to state governors around the country, compelling them to determine cannabis operations are essential businesses in their states.

They are also pushing for state governors to help these businesses implement online ordering, contactless deliveries and telemedicine and also cut through some of the red tape in the industry, such as hiring requirements.

The director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project says that every aspect of the marijuana industry is so regulated that it’s tough to function properly in a time like what we’re in.

What Are States Doing?

In California, cannabis is being called an essential medicine for residents, and this means that the operators of dispensaries can stay open, but they have to follow social distancing rules.

The New Jersey Department of Health has said it will focus on measures to help people get medical marijuana through the introduction of curbside pickup at dispensaries.

Colorado, which led the way in terms of states legalizing medical marijuana, state regulators issued an emergency rule allow dispensaries to take both online and phone orders and offer curbside pickup.

In New Hampshire, regulators are currently letting doctors use telehealth services to prescribe medical marijuana.

In Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Washington, medical marijuana dispensaries are also being classified as essential.

The Centers for Disease Control does say marijuana can have therapeutic benefits for people with autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, as well as cancer patients.

Operators of dispensaries say their services are certainly essential, not only because people use cannabis for physical health symptoms but also because of mental health symptoms.

In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker said medical cannabis businesses could be classified as essential and stay open but recreational businesses had to close.

In states with medical marijuana only, like Florida, there is still some indication these services are viewed as necessary. For example, the state surgeon general in Florida issued an order saying physicians can issue recertifications to current medical marijuana patients, but they can’t issue new ones via telemedicine.

Advocates for marijuana legalization say that the way government officials are recognizing the fact that cannabis is an essential part of life for many Americans is a move in the right direction. They also say that it’s important for people in this country to have access to what they need to maintain their quality of life right now.

These factors could reflect an overall shift in how cannabis is viewed in America and its role in American life.

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