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Cannabis shops succeed during COVID-19 while other businesses argue over masks

May 15, 2020

On social media this past month, Americans debated the value of wearing personal protective equipment at their local Costco and argued whether or not doing so infringes upon the liberties that are thus rarely afforded to the country’s most vulnerable citizens. “Costco, what are you doing?” wrote one disgruntled person on Twitter in early May. “States are re-opening, and that’s when you start a requirement for a face mask, don’t get it.” 

“Will be cancelling [sic] membership,” wrote the self-appointed Patrick Henry of bargain shopping before adding the not-so-subtle hashtag #boycottcostco. From food markets to Fuddruckers in towns big and small, Americans are separated by epidemiological dogma across partisan lines. 

The coronavirus pandemic has the country preparing for 15 percent unemployment and local businesses teetering on edge, struggling to understand a divided consumer base that disagrees on the merits of scientific fact. While calls for social distancing lead to media-fueled protests, relaxed stay-at-home orders result in an uptick in infections and record numbers of deaths.

In America, consumerism lost the narrative when the coronavirus pandemic caused it to cave in on itself.

But not the legal cannabis industry, which, despite little help from the federal government — save a symbolic vote in the House — has proven why the business is essential. 

“I have been hearing that [cannabis] sales have increased,” said Carly, a consumer from Denver, Colorado, the unofficial home of the legalization movement. “I am seeing dispensaries practice the CDC guidelines, which include limiting people in the store, fewer employees, masks, and gloves being worn by staff — and I'm sure many are requiring consumers to wear them as well.” 

“Overall, it does not feel like much has changed,” she continued.

Carly, who works in the mental health and substance use field and loves indoor gardening, horror movies, and Dungeons & Dragons, has been using cannabis on and off for about 15 years. She’s a daily user but cautions that she is careful due to being prone to anxiety and paranoia. “I enjoy being high and eating a ton of food, and as someone who is very hyperactive-I find it helps me calm the fuck down after a long day,” she said, adding that she’s also used cannabis to help with problematic alcohol use in the past.

Where she lives and works, the stay at home orders have recently been lifted, first in the state, and then in the city, which causes her much consternation at this moment. “I would have loved to see more testing, more financial relief to the general public, and extended stay at home orders to keep as many people safe as possible,” she said.

But as frustrated as Carly has been with the government response to COVID-19, she’s been equally as pleased with her local dispensaries. For her, it’s about more than merely having access to a substance she enjoys; it’s about having uninterrupted access to a safe supply, a core tenet of the harm reduction movement.

“I have been pleased, and feel very fortunate that I have an uninterrupted access to a safe supply of a substance I enjoy using,” said Carly. “I am happy that dispensaries were considered an essential business so that people who are dependent or use it for a myriad of harm reduction reasons/coping mechanism have access to a safe supply, and on a less serious note, am happy that it is available, to provide some levity to a pretty stressful and heavy time.”

Mark, a self-described retired hippy out of Scottsdale, Arizona, agrees with Carly’s assessment of the cannabis industry’s response to COVID-19. 

“The industry’s response? Extremely pleased. I don’t want to go back,” said Mark, who split his career between a credit card company and several airlines, including United, TWA, and others. Mark has been a pot smoker for about 45 years, transitioning from recreational to medical use recently. He smokes daily and drops a “large dose in his coffee vis coconut oil.” Legal cannabis helped him stop drinking and an eight-year opiate habit as well.

As for the coronavirus pandemic, it hasn’t changed his daily life too much. “I am disabled, had a BKA [below knee amputation] about 6 six years ago, so didn’t get out much so really nothing changed,” he said. “I did go to the Mayo ER twice, and it was surreal.”

As in Colorado, Arizona, deemed cannabis an “essential business.” For Mark, legal marijuana is a panacea; he would never leave for the days of illicit sales. “[I] haven’t used a street dealer in over a decade,” he said. “The new way is excellent, and I hope it never changes.” 

Moreover, Mark was especially pleased with the special hours for his dispensaries provided for senior citizens during the pandemic. “Old people get special times, all order done online, curbside pick up. Delivery,” he noted matter-of-factly.

Like Carly, one of Mark’s more essential concerns is harm reduction, something that legal cannabis gives him in droves during the coronavirus pandemic — and in general. Both of them noted that the dispensaries they used practiced above-standard safety precautions, from masks to social distancing.

“They text me when it’s ready,” said Mark, who orders his product online ahead of time. “Go to lobby; all worked in masks. Give your money. Go home and get high.”

The experience was similar for Carly as well, who stated that outside of a bit of a longer wait time, everything continues to run smoothly. “I have not heard of anyone being disadvantaged except longer wait times purchasing — so really this just means planning for a longer errand,” she said. “Besides that, everyone I know is able to get their usual order, and no one has had to experience withdrawals.”

In the end, both agreed that the legal cannabis industry has come through for them during the coronavirus pandemic — a significant achievement since the industry has struggled to stay open during this time. But it goes to show that many across America would do well to look towards the cannabis industry as an example of how to stay open during a pandemic properly.

And if you do shop at a dispensary, don’t forget the essential employees working there. “If you are someone who purchases from a dispensary-tip, your budtenders-and tip them well!” said Carly.

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