Cannabis dispensaries remain open in USA as an essential service.

Cannabis is an essential product in USA

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Benito Díaz

USA network's cannabis dispensaries employ around 243.000 legal workers. The regulation that allows cannabis to be legally traded in states such as California has had to be reviewed in order to adapt to the health crisis of COVID19, produced by the SARS COV-2 virus. These businesses implemented a series of sanitary safety measures on a local, federal, and international level.

Some of the procedures for these companies start with basic hygiene rules: distribution of latex gloves, masks and periodical temperature checks via infrared thermometers. The checking includes workers as well as customers.

Commercial activity has been moved outside the shops, assembling structures akin to the fast food franchises: drive-in services, in which the customers do not step out of the car. Additionally, the postal shipping has been strengthened. The goal is to avoid contact and prevent the formation of crowds inside the shops.

Therapeutic cannabis

Gavin Newson, governor of California, called for the confinement of the 40 million residents in the state on March 19th. In the early moments, he ruled shutting down the cannabis dispensaries. But a few days later, he changed his mind, including these businesses in the “essentials” list, therefore changing the status of cannabis to a first need substance, like gasoline or food.

Both the State of California’s and the local health authorities consider cannabis as “an essential medicine for numerous San Francisco residents". Dispensaries can still operate, as long as they maintain the social distancing practices and other public health recommendations.

This situation shows that, for many people, cannabis is a commodity like beer or wine”, explains Liz Connors, Director of Analytics of cannabis market in Headset. Besides the argument about marijuana's therapeutic worth, it is a fact that cannabis moves a big part of the public coffers’ money, considering both recreational users and therapeutic users. The week of March 30th, sales soared 60%. In the state of Washington there was a 100% increase and in Colorado, almost 50% compared to the same period in 2019.

CRITICS

Several voices have protested against this vision of cannabis as a medicine and its new status. “Marijuana dispensaries are not essential services”, points out Amy Ronshausen in La Tercera newspaper. She is the executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation. “In fact, the use of marijuana has the potential of being very harmful to individual health during such a crisis. It has been proved in studies that THC consumption can have a negative effect on the user’s immune system, which diminishes their chances to fight back and recover from COVID19”.

We have not had the chance to review the documents that Mrs Ronshausen works with, but several health organisations like the American National Health Institute or the National Institute for Drug Abuse have warned that the virus that causes COVID19 “could be an especially serious threat to those who use vapers, smoke tobacco or marijuana, due to its big impact in the lungs of those infected”.

In the light of these warnings, users are looking for material that does not affect the lungs and does not involve sharing paraphernalia. This has caused an increase in the sales of edible products, to the point that this format has been the 15% of the total cannabis produce of the state of California, a percentage stable during the whole month of March.

Spain has not regulated its cannabis market. This has generated all sorts of situations during the quarantine, and has caused the black market to grow. Nevertheless, products such as tobacco or alcohol have been considered as “first need products” and their consumption has soared.