cannabis coronavirus

“Reopening these businesses would provide access to the many adult-use consumers who rely on cannabis for medical purposes.”

As you may have seen your friends who prefer hash over hooch (rightfully) complaining about on social media this past week, while Mass Governor Charlie Baker’s March 23 order for non-essential businesses to cease in-person operations allowed package stores to remain open, it temporarily stopped recreational cannabis sales.

Across the board, the state has been slow to extend a helping hand to pot shops. Though medical sales are allowed to continue, the rec ban has already negatively impacted businesses as well as patients and consumers. In one industry-specific hardship, cannabis companies are among the few types of operations that are explicitly excluded from a Department of Revenue tax relief program “for Certain Business Taxpayers Affected by the COVID-19 State of Emergency.”

With such decisions being roundly mocked by the cannabis community, frontline activists and industry voices are publicly—and jointly—expressing their dismay. In a series of statements sent to reporters this week, a “group made up of cannabis legalization advocates, doctors, veterans, public health professionals, cannabis consumer representatives, a Cannabis Control Commission commissioner, and a member of the CCC Advisory Board” called on Baker to “end the ban on adult-use cannabis sales, a move that would bring Massachusetts into line with other cannabis-legal states with coronavirus stay-at-home advisories or orders in place.”

“I applaud Gov. Baker for recognizing that even as we strive to minimize unnecessary interactions, access to medical cannabis is essential to the health of tens of thousands of patients in Massachusetts,” CCC Commissioner Shaleen Title said in a March 30 statement. “I welcome and share his confidence in the ability of the Commission and its medical licensees to operate safely amid the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, including by enhancing sanitation procedures, limiting the number of patrons, and allowing curbside pickup. I believe those same measures, potentially along with a restriction on out-of-state customers, could be applied to adult-use facilities to allow for resumed operations. Reopening these businesses would provide access to the many adult-use consumers who rely on cannabis for medical purposes.”

The group noted that “the CCC earlier this month issued guidelines for cannabis businesses regarding safer retail practices during the Covid-19 crisis,” and additionally recommended “several measures that could be implemented to increase safety levels for consumers and employees if the ban were reversed,” including:

  •     Restricting sales to Massachusetts residents only.
  •     Establishing exclusive store hours for consumers aged 60 and over.
  •     Encouraging or mandating the use of online pre-ordering to minimize in-store time.
  •     Utilizing curbside pickup, as is a practice at many package stores across the state.

“It is somewhat of an artificial line between medical and adult or recreational use with cannabis,” Dr. Peter Grinspoon, an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School, added. “There is tremendous overlap. To close the recreational cannabis stores means that any of the many Massachusetts citizens that utilize cannabis for medical reasons, but who buy it at recreational stores, now need to go through a costly certification process to obtain a medical cannabis card.”

“Massachusetts is the outlier,” Jim Borghesani said in the March 30 statement. The director of communications for the 2016 legalization campaign “pointed out that California, Illinois, Washington, Oregon and Michigan are allowing adult-use cannabis sales amid their stay-at-home conditions.”

“Gov. Baker has imposed less restrictive stay-at-home conditions but a more restrictive cannabis policy than these other states,” Borghesani added. “It is difficult to reconcile the dissimilar approach. But it is clear that those states recognize the importance of maintaining consumer access to legal cannabis and the inconsistency of banning adult-use cannabis sales while allowing liquor sales.”

On Tuesday, the group doubled down. “It is time for the governor to act, and if he doesn’t it’s time for the Legislature to step up,” Borghesani wrote in a follow-up statement. “The governor’s stance is out of step with every other governor in a cannabis-legal state, and consumers who desire cannabis for therapeutic reasons but do not possess a medical card are now facing an even longer lack of access.”

On Wednesday, the group added to its message, with cannabis activist Stephen Mandile responding to a comment the governor made one day earlier. At a press conference on Tuesday, Baker indicated that he wasn’t certain if restricting recreational sales is legal. To which cannabis activist Stephen Mandile, also a veteran advocate and Uxbridge selectman, knocked the governor for “not properly exploring his legal options before deciding to halt adult-use cannabis sales.”

“The fact that the governor is unclear about the legality of restricting sales to Massachusetts residents tells me that he didn’t give any thought to viable options before making the decision to end adult-use sales, a decision that no other governor in a legal state has made,” Mandible wrote. “I do not see how restricting sales to Massachusetts residents for adult-use cannabis would be any different than restricting sales to Massachusetts residents for medical cannabis, which the state has done from the beginning.”

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