Editor’s note: this story was originally published on March 19 and was most recently updated on March 30. We’ll continue to update as regulators announce new policies.
So far, during the COVID-19 pandemic, cannabis sales are through the roof as consumers stock up in anticipation of supply chain disruption. But, despite this upswing, cannabis companies are bracing for impact. As Cannabis Wire reported this week, a dilemma has hit the nascent industry: to close or not to close? Already, Canopy Growth chose to close nearly two dozen shops in Canada, and we’re tracking how other companies are reacting.
But what happens in the case of forced closures? Cannabis regulators will have to weigh tough decisions in the coming days as businesses, from gyms to bowling alleys to bars, are asked to close as part of broader efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
(While Canadian consumers can legally order cannabis online, should closures occur, changes are taking place north of the border. On March 19, the Prince Edward Island Cannabis Management Corporation, the province-run adult use cannabis shops, announced its shops would close “until further notice.”)
Cannabis Wire is talking to regulators across the US in states where cannabis is legal for medical use, adult use, or both. We’re asking: Will medical cannabis shops be considered “essential?” Will medical and adult use shops be treated differently? If it isn’t already, will delivery be allowed?
As the responses flow in, or as relevant announcements are made, we’ll update below:
STATES WITH ADULT USE AND MEDICAL USE
On March 17, San Francisco’s Department of Public Health tweeted, “Cannabis is an essential medicine for many San Francisco residents. Dispensaries can continue to operate as essential businesses during this time.” (This was a reversal of their initial decision when the Bay Area was ordered to shelter-in-place.)
On March 19, Los Angeles County tweeted, “To answer a popular question: cannabis dispensaries with a medicinal cannabis license are considered essential and may remain open.”
This was in response to Governor Gavin Newsom’s order, also on March 19, that Californians stay home. On March 21, the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control announced that “Because cannabis is an essential medicine for many residents, licensees may continue to operate at this time so long as their operations comply with local rules and regulations.”
As far as Denver, where the majority of the state’s industry is centered, “The only change in Denver so far is that the one licensed cannabis consumption facility has been ordered to temporarily close under the public health order,” Eric Escudero, the director of communications for Denver’s department of excise and licenses, told Cannabis Wire on March 17.
That business affected by the March 16 public order is The Coffee Joint, one of the few legal cannabis consumption spaces in the US.
Otherwise, the Department told Cannabis Wire on March 18: “Currently, there are no restrictions in place for cannabis businesses to continue to operate no matter if they are medical or adult use, except for the request that businesses maintain an environment where patrons and staff maintain social distancing (six feet away from other people) whenever possible as a precaution to help stop the spread of the virus.”
On March 19, Denver published a bulletin on steps that businesses are taking, such as “elimination of ‘smell jars.’”
On March 23, Denver ordered all non-essential businesses closed, and the list of essential businesses initially included medical cannabis shops, but not adult use shops. The order was quickly amended to allow all cannabis shops to remain open. Denver does not allow for cannabis delivery.
On March 24, the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division published a “compliance tip” confirming that, at the state level, medical cannabis shops could remain open and provide curbside service, while adult use shops can only provide curbside service.
The state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation issued guidance on March 17:
“To help reduce contact between individuals, dispensaries will be allowed to sell medical cannabis to medical cannabis patients and OAPP participants outside a limited access area until March 30, 2020, provided dispensaries follow certain guidelines, which may be found here. The guidelines will permit the dispensary to sell medical cannabis on the dispensary’s property or on a public walkway or curb adjacent to the dispensary. Medical cannabis patients will be able to continue to utilize their designated caregiver to purchase medicine for them. However, dispensaries may not deliver medical cannabis to a patient or caregiver’s home. These rules do not apply to adult use cannabis sales; those must still take place inside the limited access area. IDFPR is aware of at least eight dispensaries that have voluntarily suspended adult use cannabis sales, while others are implementing patient-only hours.”
“Our top priority is to minimize the risk of and protect as many people from exposure to COVID-19,” said Toi Hutchinson, senior advisor for cannabis control to Governor JB Pritzker, in a statement. “These steps prioritize that critical objective, while also ensuring medical patients have access to the medicine they need.”
On March 20, Governor JB Pritzker issued a “stay at home order,” though cannabis businesses remain in the “essential” category.
On March 18, the state’s Cannabis Control Commission released a bulletin related to cannabis and COVID-19:
“The Commission urges licensees to consider designating specific hours to protect at-risk groups, requiring employees to stay home if/when they feel sick, mandating mobile or pre-ordering, strictly limiting the size of lines with six feet between patients, caregivers, and customers, cleaning surfaces every 30 minutes or sooner as needed, and wearing personal protective equipment at all times.
The health and wellbeing of individuals is of paramount importance. The Commission therefore asks licensees to be mindful of the needs of patients who may have conditions that compromise their immunity and make accommodations as necessary for these individuals when voluntarily notified of a condition.
… where applicable, Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers that offer patient delivery may consider the promotion and geographic expansion of their service and remind patients of the ability to acquire up to a 60-day supply.”
Another bulletin published on March 20 addressed telehealth for patients.
On March 23, Governor Charlie Baker ordered all non-essential businesses closed, which includes adult use cannabis shops. Medical cannabis shops are considered essential. That same day, the Cannabis Control Commission released a FAQ regarding the closure requirements.
On March 27, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission announced that medical cannabis shops can allow for curbside pickup (provided local regulations are followed, among other requirements).
In response to Cannabis Wire’s question on March 18 as to whether medical cannabis shops would be deemed “essential” in case of widespread closure of other establishments, David Harns of the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said, “We can’t speculate.”
On March 16, the state Marijuana Regulatory Agency published an advisory bulletin that temporarily loosens delivery restrictions and allows for curbside pickup:
“In accordance with the MMFLA Administrative Rule, R 333.282 and MRTMA Emergency Rule 57, licensed provisioning centers and adult-use retailers may provide home delivery services. The MRA must approve the delivery procedure used by the designated licensed facility or adult-use establishment.
… The MRA encourages the use of home delivery when applicable. The MRA will make every effort to review, process and approve requests from licensees within 24-48 hours. Temporarily, the MRA will allow the use of home delivery for patients and customers whose residential address may not be the address identified on their state issued identification card.
Temporarily, the MRA will allow curbside pickup. Customers may remain in their parked vehicle, in the parking lot of a licensed provisioning center or adult-use retailer. Customers may complete an order including payment for their product via the internet or they may place their order once parked at the facility. An employee from the licensed facility or adult-use establishment is permitted to complete the sales transaction by interacting with the customer in the parking lot and recording the necessary information into the statewide monitoring system.”
On March 23, Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order to “suspend activities that are not necessary to sustain or protect life.” Cannabis shops will be required to move to deliver or curbside pickup.
On March 18, Nevada Department of Taxation released the following announcement:
“Following recent guidance from Governor Steve Sisolak, licensed cannabis stores and medical dispensaries will remain open but must adhere to strict social distancing protocol during this time. Licensees must not allow individuals to congregate in stores or outside while waiting. Patient consultations should be limited to phone or video only. Consumers are strongly encouraged to utilize delivery services when applicable, or complete orders online or over the phone.
The Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) has implemented new temporary delivery vehicle inspection procedures to address any increase in market demand for cannabis delivery. Curbside pickup will not be permitted at this time.
… Licensees will be required to give deference to medical patients and their needs.”
On March 20, the Department made another announcement, that medical and adult use cannabis sales will be delivery-only, and storefronts must close. Curbside pickup will not be allowed. As for the rest of the cannabis supply chain, “Cultivation facilities, production facilities, distributors, and independent testing facilities will be allowed to continue operations while following strict social distancing guidelines as part of the necessary cannabis supply chain operations.”
On March 22, Oregon’s Liquor Control Commission announced “temporary changes” in response to COVID-19.
“On-site delivery” will be allowed, which is essentially curbside pickup, and the amount of cannabis that a patient can purchase has been increased.
The OLCC emphasized compliance: “The OLCC recognizes this temporary change is extraordinary, but during this public health crisis OLCC strongly urges marijuana licensees to be publicly responsible operators and not take advantage of relaxed regulations that are intended to benefit the protection of the public health of Oregonians. OLCC will be closely monitoring the implementation of this rule.”
On March 17, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) announced: “At this time, cannabis retailers are not required to close due to the coronavirus restrictions.”
But, they announced that curbside service would be allowed for medical cannabis.
The announcement continued, “to promote social distancing for qualified patients, the LCB is temporarily allowing cannabis retailers to sell to qualifying patients or their designated providers outside of their business but within the licensed property line.”
(With regard to retail, Brian Smith, communications director for the LCB told Cannabis Wire, “In fact, I’ve heard business is up.”)
On March 24, LCB issued a bulletin that read: “At this time, cannabis producers, processors and retailers are considered essential and not required to close due to the coronavirus restrictions. However, to promote social distancing, the LCB is temporarily expanding curbside sales beyond qualified medical patients to allow sales to all adult customers as long as certain restrictions are in place.”
The LCB also said it is seeking “deferment and a waiver of the penalties for late payment of taxes” for cannabis licensees, but is awaiting word from the governor.
STATES WITH MEDICAL USE ONLY
The Arkansas Department of Health told Cannabis Wire on March 17 that, as far as the patient side, “Patients have been asking if applications are still being processed and the extension of expiration dates due to the Coronavirus. We are currently still accepting and processing applications. There are currently no delays to processing times.”
The Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection told Cannabis Wire on March 19, “There were initially some concerns about whether or not facilities can stay open. They can, they are treated like pharmacies. Delivery is currently available for hospice patients.”
The Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program told Cannabis Wire on March 17 that they are hearing from some license holders “concern over the impact that the outbreak will have on their businesses.”
“All licensees are taking steps to ask clients to order online to minimize time spent in the dispensary and to arrange for a caregiver to pick up their orders if they are not feeling well or have a health condition which places them at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Our usual schedule of regulatory inspections will be maintained as it is considered an essential function. We remain in close contact with all our licensees.”
The Medical Cannabis Dispensary Licensing Section told Cannabis Wire on March 22, “Dispensaries have not been declared essential as in other states, however, there has been no discussion about closing them due to the pandemic. Delivery is not allowed.”
On March 23, the state officially declared cannabis businesses essential.
The Department of Public Health told Cannabis Wire on March 18 that, on the patient side, they are hearing “concerns about renewing expired cards, getting a card, seeing a physician,” and on the business license holder side, they are fielding questions on “what best practices to use, asking for communications on solutions to pending issues.”
Delivery is not allowed, but the state has “just provided a waiver to allow for curbside pickup.”
And finally, medical shops would be considered “essential” in a closure scenario.
On March 23, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission issued a bulletin, following Governor Larry Hogan’s order that non-essential businesses close, that read: “Medical cannabis growers, processors, and dispensaries, and registered independent testing laboratories (collectively “medical cannabis licensees”) are state-licensed health care providers and facilities under the Health-General Article. Maryland’s medical cannabis licensees routinely provide critical medical treatment to more than 95,000 qualifying patients in the State. Therefore, medical cannabis licensees are designated essential businesses and may remain open.”
Other steps the Commission has taken since March 19:
“• Authorize telehealth for written certification renewal.
• Suspend requirements for patient signature at point-of-sale or to complete the patient attestation form.
• Suspend high-risk transmission activities, including deli-style sales and sniff jars.
• Extend agent registrations set to expire until 30 days after the state of emergency is terminated.
• Authorize on-site delivery (e.g. to parking lot).
• Encourage businesses to temporarily reduce or stagger staff, alter business hours, implement enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures, and utilize mobile or order-ahead features, delivery or onsite delivery, or similar methods of reducing overcrowding.
• Encourage businesses to post Maryland Department of Health COVID-19 signage.”
The Department of Health and Senior Services’ Medical Marijuana Regulatory Program told Cannabis Wire on March 17, that the questions from patients and license holders boil down to whether patient applications are still getting processed, and “whether we are still proceeding with business as usual on the facility side. We are.”
On March 19, the Department added, “Missouri allows delivery to patients, within certain parameters. … We have not considered the question of whether Dispensaries would be required to close under any given scenario.”
On March 23, the Medical Marijuana Program published recommendations for cannabis businesses for social distancing, including moving to delivery where allowed by the locality.
They also wrote: “The Department has submitted policy recommendations to the Governor for consideration to continue to provide medicine to people with debilitating illness, protect patients and providers from unnecessary exposure, decrease the burden on health care professional for non-COVID related care, and slow the spread of infectious disease. The department will issue additional guidance as soon as possible if these policy recommendations are adopted.”
New Hampshire: On March 23, the Therapeutic Cannabis Program announced the following temporary changes:
“• All ATCs are currently open.
• All ATCs have reduced hours.
• Patients are strongly encouraged to call ahead before going to their ATC for the most current information.
• All ATCs are strongly encouraging patients to pre-order. Check with your ATC to see if phone or online ordering is available.
• ‘Curbside’ pickup of orders has been approved and is in the process of being implemented at all the ATCs.
• Telehealth. The Governor’s executive order permits telehealth for health care service delivery. The requirement for an ‘in-person’ examination for the purposes of certification and recertification for the therapeutic use of cannabis has been suspended. The required assessment may be conducted via telehealth.”
The Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Program told Cannabis Wire on March 18 that, on the patient side, “Patients are worried about the length of time to process applications. Patients are worried about supply. Patients are worried about dispensaries following CDC, WHO and Government guidelines in terms of amount of people in dispensary, delivery, cleanliness, extra precautions.”
Medical cannabis delivery is allowed for patients.
While no regulatory changes have been announced, when asked whether medical cannabis shops would be considered “essential” in a closure scenario, the Department said, “We are unable to provide an answer to this at this time.”
On March 20, the Medical Cannabis Program clarified that medical cannabis businesses are “essential” and recommended “using pick-up, curb-side, or delivery service.”
On March 21, Governor Phil Murphy ordered residents to “stay at home” and the closure of non-essential businesses. But, “with the exceptions of … Pharmacies and medical marijuana dispensaries.”
The New York State Department of Health Medical Marijuana Program told Cannabis Wire on March 17: “In the event non-essential businesses are forced to shut down due to COVID-19, Registered Organizations in the Medical Marijuana Program will be considered essential and allowed to remain open because they are considered medical providers.”
The program “is working with Registered Organizations as they promote home delivery and scheduled dispensary visits to incorporate social distancing into their business practices, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.”
The Ohio Department of Commerce told Cannabis Wire on March 17, with regard to whether the coronavirus has affected the regulation and operation of cannabis businesses, “At this point, how we regulate has not been directly impacted.”
On March 22, Department of Health Director Amy Acton issued a “stay at home” order. The Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program noted: “Under the order, all Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program licensees can continue to operate as they are considered ‘Essential Businesses and Operations.’ Additionally, provisional licensees can continue construction on facilities as this is considered, ‘essential business construction.’”
On March 24, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority tweeted, “According to the information we have received, Oklahoma Medical Marijuana businesses are considered essential services and will not be required to close at this time.”
On March 26, the Authority tweeted, “Oklahoma law does not prohibit curbside pick-up, dispensaries must ensure all applicable rules are followed, including proper license verification, monthly reporting of the sale & packaging requirements. The law does not allow for delivery to patients or caregivers. #COVID-19”
The Department of Health’s Medical Marijuana Program told Cannabis Wire on March 17: “In Pennsylvania, medical marijuana dispensaries are considered the same as pharmacies, and so they are considered essential during this time of non-essential retail being shut down to mitigate and increase social distancing.”
Delivery is not allowed in Pennsylvania.
The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food told Cannabis Wire on March 17: “Our medical cannabis and industrial hemp growers are proceeding as usual. For the most part, farmers have been practicing social distancing for years.
… We haven’t seen much change in our medical cannabis or industrial hemp programs to this point. Our State Laboratory will continue to process cannabis and hemp samples at the same rate and speed as usual. … We have a scheduled training for hemp growers about hot hemp that has been delayed a week at least. When it happens it will be online.”