Illegal to Essential

For an industry still in its infancy that has been fighting prohibition for decades, the fact that many cannabis businesses have been deemed essential is an incredible feat.

Photo by Ken Blaze

It’s difficult to know what the U.S., and the world, will look like by the time you read this issue.

Here’s what we know as of press time. Many states, including New Jersey, Louisiana and Michigan, are joining California and New York and have issued shelter-in-place orders to contend with the coronavirus outbreak. Many schools have been closed for two weeks, some won’t reopen until April, and others will not restart until the next school year. More than a dozen states have postponed primary elections, including Ohio, which made the decision hours before the polls were to open and has since moved to mail-in only voting. The summer Olympics is also on hold. More than 3 million people have applied for unemployment benefits so far. The number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. quadrupled in a matter of days, as more testing revealed a truer picture of the toll the outbreak has taken.

Many in non-critical jobs have been asked to work remotely, if they can. Shelter-in-place advisories restrict many more to venture out only to businesses deemed essential, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and, in many states, licensed cannabis cultivation facilities and dispensaries.

For an industry still in its infancy that has been fighting prohibition for decades, this is an incredible feat.

Finding silver linings during a global pandemic can be difficult, especially when your business is experiencing challenges directly related to COVID-19. But realities that may have been taken for granted tend to come to light in a crisis. Not only do those who have been advocating for reform and sensible policies recognize that this remarkable plant is an important, essential and mainstream medicine, but so do state officials, even during these unpredictable and unprecedented times.

For example, Ohio approved its medical program less than four years ago, and the first dispensaries opened in 2019. In the health director’s stay-at-home order, “licensed medical marijuana use, medical marijuana dispensaries and licensed medical marijuana cultivation centers” are labeled “Essential Businesses and Operations,” further supporting their legitimacy.

Some governments also moved quickly to accommodate cannabis businesses, like in Illinois, where medical dispensaries can now offer curbside pickup for patients, all to promote social distancing. Nimble cultivation operations and dispensaries are implementing policies on-the-fly, pushing up plans for offerings like drive-thrus, as well, and adjusting to new realities.

Some states, however, have placed more restrictions on businesses. Adult-use dispensaries in Massachusetts must close during the shelter-in-place order. Medical dispensaries, however, can remain open.

While the team at Cannabis Business Times continues to publish the latest news on our website to keep you updated on how COVID-19 is affecting the industry, we are adjusting by working remotely, relying on Skype and other technology to communicate and publish our magazine. We’re also working to reschedule our annual Cannabis Conference, originally scheduled for April, which is now postponed. As soon as we have a new date, we will share it with you.

Although we are lucky to have many platforms to connect with colleagues, friends and family as we stay at home, it’s strange not to be able to gather in person and do ordinary things like eat at restaurants—or attend conferences. We look forward to being able to host Cannabis Conference, an essential educational event for an essential industry, where we can once again network and learn. After this, we will have much to discuss.

April 2020
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