Cannabis and coronavirus

Here’s How the Pandemic Is Impacting Medical Cannabis Patients

"You have to show up before they open, line up in your car, and hope you get a ticket to come back and purchase later."

The ongoing COVID outbreak in the US has wreaked havoc on industries across the country, threatening service workers' well-being and shattering the stability of small businesses and corporations alike—and the medical cannabis industry isn't immune.

While access to marijuana may not be the first thing one thinks of when it comes to COVID-19 ripple effects, it is certainly top of mind for the millions of legal medical marijuana patients in the United States. Currently, state laws dictate how cannabis businesses operate, and even in states where marijuana has been legalized, there are often logistical barriers to access. Historically, regulations requiring all transactions to be documented on a security camera has prevented dispensaries from expanding to delivery services. Given the amount of patients who are currently at risk due to their age or immunocompromising condition, many marijuana patients are practicing isolation. But the thing is: they still need their medicine.

Fortunately, as Forbes stresses, many states have deemed medical dispensaries—as well as some recreational—as “essential” businesses, showing us that cannabis is more mainstream than ever before. Even public opinions favor this take. According to YouGov, 53 percent of polled participants believed medical dispensaries should be classified as “essential” businesses.

Some patients, however, face tremendous difficulty in accessing medicine, despite dispensaries still operating. Patients who are immunocompromised are advised against going out but, unlike groceries, cannabis can’t be picked up by a friend or family member; state regulators insist existing patients and caregivers themselves are the only ones who can purchase it.

Amanda is a New Jersey medical marijuana patient who deals with chronic pain and a gastrointestinal disorder. Since she’s immunocompromised, she is currently isolating and “avoiding crowds as much as possible.”

“At [one dispensary], you have to show up before they open, line up in your car, and hope you get a ticket to come back and purchase later,” she explained to Supermaker. “At [a different dispensary], you can place your order online, but you still have to wait in line for over an hour in order to complete your purchase.”

Even if she wasn’t immunocompromised, her medical conditions make Amanda unable to wait in long lines. “I have [Inflammatory Bowel Disease]. I can’t wait in line without bathroom access for an indeterminate amount of time, even in remission,” she stressed. “What are actively flaring patients supposed to do?”

"Patients who are immunocompromised are advised against going out but, unlike groceries, cannabis can’t be picked up by a friend or family member."

Amanda stressed curbside pickup “without the ridiculous extra wait” would be most ideal for her and other immunocompromised patients. “I would love to be able to place my order online then drive over to pick it up, but that’s not how the process works [in my state],” she added. “My choices are to either drive for hours to wait for hours and hope they have what I need in stock, or go without. It seems cruel.”

Fortunately, there are dispensaries offering this service to make products more widely accessible to patients. Magnolia, a dispensary in Oakland, California, offers express ordering by phone. While this requires still coming in the storefront, the business has taken steps to implement consumers and staff are able to remain six feet apart from each other.

“People are lonely and they need a human experience,” Debby Goldsberry, CEO of Magnolia, explained to Supermaker over the phone. “If they can find a place that’s safe, where they can keep six feet and actually say hi to somebody, a lot of people want to do that.”

The dispensary, which serves recreational consumers and medical patients alike, also offers curbside delivery, which is beneficial to regulars (like Amanda, for instance) who know exactly what products they need. This required a state emergency order because “usually, all the transactions need to be on camera, which is impossible for curbside,” Goldberry explained. “[They told us] as long as your security guards are supervising, that’s totally fine.”

In Portland, Oregon, Chalice Farms recently introduced contactless, at-home delivery to reduce the amount of time customers spend in the physical storefront, although they still offer in-store pickup and curbside pickup. Similar to in California, Oregon has allowed curbside pickup and delivery via emergency order.

Our retail staff and delivery drivers wear personal protective equipment, including gloves, at all times,” explained John Ford, Vice President of Retail Operations at Chalice Farms. “We limit our delivery times to daylight hours only [between 12 p.m. and 8 p.m]. and drivers are instructed to only drop off at locations where they feel safe and secure.”

However, there are certain restrictions for cannabis businesses still in place, even during a global pandemic. The Marijuana Policy Project demands allowing physicians to advise medical cannabis patients via telemedicine as well as extending the expiration date of medical cannabis cards. The Drug Policy Alliance calls for permitting authorized caregivers to serve additional patients and giving tax relief for both patients and businesses.

Goldberry wants consumers and patients to be able to buy more cannabis at a time. “Given 4/20, [recreational] adult cannabis users [in California] are only allowed to buy one ounce of cannabis [per day],” she stressed. Oregon has the same regulation. “For a lot of cannabis users, that’s maybe a two week supply. We really want the right to supply people their supply [at once] for a whole month.”

“I would love to be able to place my order online then drive over to pick it up, but that’s not how the process works [in my state],” she added. “My choices are to either drive for hours to wait for hours and hope they have what I need in stock, or go without. It seems cruel.”

Advocates also are pushing for criminal justice reform, especially since many municipalities have already begun to deprioritize possession-related charges and other non-violent arrests to reduce incarcerated populations. In a detailed memo, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) calls for “immediate withdrawal of all charges for those currently facing prosecution for a nonviolent marijuana-related offense, immediate review and release of currently incarcerated individuals who are either in jail or in prison solely for the commission of a nonviolent marijuana-related offense, [and] immediate review and waiving of all pending probation requirements for individuals who have solely been convicted of a nonviolent marijuana-related crime.”

Ultimately, while many dispensaries are successfully adjusting their practices in response to COVID-19 to make cannabis more accessible to patients, there are still government regulations limiting cannabis businesses from reaching their full potential and providing access to care for all those who need it.

“I’m the best-case scenario,” Amanda concluded. And she’s right. “Most patients struggle more than I do, so if it’s this hard for me—a full-time employee, single without kids, [with] well-controlled [inflammatory bowel disease]—how many others are suffering needlessly?”

Getting the conversation started

What did you think about this article? How does it relate to you?

Join the convo on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

📥  Supernews.

Upgrade your business and career in just two minutes, for free.