Recent coronavirus response measures in Denver and Colorado have been keeping attorney Alyson Jaen’s attention lately as the industry works to maintain compliance.
At 5 p.m. MDT on March 24, Denver’s stay-at-home order went into effect in response to the coronavirus. The previous day, Mayor Michael Hancock said adult-use businesses and liquor stores are nonessential, but reversed course a few hours later after an “outcry” and let the businesses remain open, according to The New York Times.
Facing orders to stay in their homes and the possibility of not being able to purchase product when they do leave their homes, demand among adult-use customers increased 140% on March 23 before the mayor said adult-use businesses are essential, said Jaen, said Jaen, who leads Denver-based Fortis Law Partners’ cannabis licensing practice.
“It was in a matter of hours [that] we had a huge pivot—'Yes, you're open,' 'No, you're not.’” she said. “That creates confusion and this idea of panic-buying.”
Previously, on March 20, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued executive orders that allowed dispensaries to temporarily offer curbside pickup through mid-April and for doctors to be able to remotely issue medical cards, according to Westword.
“You can now call in your order or do it online and then come to the curbside to pick it up, to try and help with social distancing because there's been such a spike in the demand,” Jaen said. “You were hearing stories about overcrowded dispensaries—there was definitely not six feet between people. So, they're adapting to figure out what to do in the interest of public safety and health and wellness.”
Part of Jaen’s job involves advising dispensaries on regulatory compliance. In Colorado, she said, specific regulations for curbside pickup mandate video surveillance of transactions and for those transactions to be done on the retail store’s property.
Dispensary decision-makers must make sure all sidewalks where they and their employees conduct business are “licensed premises.” “Let's say you own a dispensary and [a nearby] sidewalk is public—you cannot do curbside on that public sidewalk,” Jaen said.
The Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) and Denver Department of Excise and Licenses announced their own efforts to increase social distancing between regulators and current and prospective cannabis business owners.
While Jaen said keeping up with compliance is mostly “business as usual,” citing information from the MED, that state agency and the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses have closed their physical offices, adding some temporary mail and email submission options for license and business applications and renewals. In addition, state business owner badges issued by the MED won’t include photos for identification. More details are available here and here.
“I think life is just really crazy right now, and everyone's just trying to get to what could be a new normal for a little bit,” Jaen said. “It's clearly not permanent. This will pass, just like we've dealt with pandemics in the past. But I think when you're trying to adapt to your new normal as a business, you need to be really cognizant of deadlines—state, local—because all of that is still in effect here.”
In and outside of Colorado, cannabis businesses should visit their regulatory agency’s websites and social media pages frequently and subscribe to agency newsletters if they haven’t already, Jaen said.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker deemed medical operations essential and ordered adult-use dispensaries to close until April 7. In New Jersey, medical dispensaries can offer curbside pickup.
“Nationwide, I think we're going to see medical and retail stores really be treated differently,” Jaen said.
The coronavirus is leading the U.S. into a recession, economists say. But at the same time, Jaen said, customers are purchasing a lot of cannabis. This time could offer an opportunity for prospective cannabis business owners who have the capital to open cultivation facilities or dispensaries.
“Then you run into full other issues, like how are you going to build it out?” Jaen said. “Some cities are allowing construction, some aren't. But I think it'll impact people who are looking to enter the market—I think it'll definitely make people pause. But people that are currently in the market and up and operating—hopefully they can make a killing."