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Coronavirus Crisis Shows Marijuana Is ‘Essential’ And Mainstream

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Never has it been more clear than during the current COVID-19 pandemic that marijuana has arrived at the forefront of mainstream American society.

In state after state, governors and public health officials are deeming cannabis businesses “essential” operations that can stay open amid coronavirus-related forced closures and stay-at-home mandates. People might not be able to go bowling or see a movie in theaters, but they can still stock up on marijuana.

It wasn’t long ago that anyone growing and selling marijuana faced the risk of being arrested, prosecuted and jailed. But now, in the era of expanding legalization, cannabis providers in many states are held up as vital members of the community who are providing a valuable service on par with picking up prescription drugs at a pharmacy or filling up your car at a gas station.

Advocacy groups have pushed governors and state officials to ensure that medical marijuana patients in particular can maintain access to the cannabis they need. But because many people who use marijuana for therapeutic purposes don’t necessarily jump through the hoops needed in order to become officially certified as patients, recreational businesses are also seen as crucial access points that need to stay open.

“Most of the American public and an increasing number of government leaders stopped buying into the demonization of cannabis years ago,” Karen O’Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “Now, not only have two-thirds of states recognized that medical cannabis should be legal—with 11 legalizing adult-use—many are recognizing that safe access to cannabis is essential.”

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said it is “encouraging to see our nation’s public policy in practice is finally catching up to where the vast majority of Americans have been for years.”

“The recognition by our government officials that cannabis is indeed not just here to stay, but an essential part of life for millions of Americans—particularly in the patient community—is a welcome move in the right direction,” he said. “It is also a move that could not have come at a better moment for those who still require access to maintain quality of life during these trying and troubled times.”

In some states, officials have enacted new temporary policies such as expanded delivery services or curbside pickup that make it easier for consumers to get their hands on marijuana while respecting social distancing measures. Others are allowing doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations via telemedicine instead of requiring that they conduct in-person examinations.

Here’s a look at how states that are taking steps to maintain legal marijuana access during the COVID-19 outbreak:

California

Regulators deemed cannabis retail outlets to be essential businesses that can stay open amid a broader stay-at-home order. Localities, including Los Angeles County and San Francisco, have also said that certain cannabis businesses are essential providers that can continue operations.

Colorado

Gov. Jared Polis (D) issued an executive order allowing marijuana businesses to provide curbside pickup services and letting doctors issue medical cannabis recommendations via telemedicine without in-person examinations. A subsequent order from the governor says that marijuana businesses are critical retail operations, but only for the sale of medical cannabis or curbside delivery. Regulators also issued emergency rules temporarily loosening requirements for fingerprinting of marijuana business owners, modification of premises and transfer of cannabis product samples for testing.

Connecticut

Regulators deemed medical cannabis businesses to be essential and thus exempt from a general mandate to suspend in-person operations.

Florida

The state surgeon general issued an order allowing physicians to issue medical cannabis recertifications to existing patients—but not new ones—via telemedicine.

Illinois

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s (D) stay-at-home order declares marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities to be essential businesses that can stay open. Dispensaries are also being allowed to do curbside sales of medical cannabis—but not recreational marijuana—products.

Maryland

Medical cannabis growers, processors and dispensaries. are exempt from an order Gov. Larry Hogan (R) issued to close non-essential businesses. Regulators are also allowing dispensaries to deliver medical marijuana to patients in parking lots.

Massachusetts

Gov. Charlie Baker (R) issued a stay-at-home order deeming medical cannabis businesses—but not recreational marijuana ones—to be essential and exempt from a general shutdown. Regulators also encouraged medical cannabis delivery services to promote and expand their offerings, and are allowing doctors to remotely recommend marijuana to patients through the use of telehealth waivers.

Michigan

Marijuana businesses will be able to continue curbside sales and home deliveries but cannot perform in-person transactions in stores under a stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D). Regulators previously sent a bulletin allowing curbside pickup and encouraging delivery services, and another bulletin extending the period of prequalification status for marijuana business license applicants that may experience building delays.

New Hampshire

Regulators are allowing medical cannabis patients to do curbside pickup at dispensaries and are letting doctors issue recommendations via telemedicine.

New Jersey

Gov. Phil Murphy (D) exempted medical cannabis dispensaries from a stay-at-home order. Regulators moved to allow patients pick up medical marijuana at dispensaries’ curbsides and to reduce caregiver registration fees.

New Mexico

Regulators ruled that medical cannabis businesses are essential and can stay open. They also allowed curbside pickup services, extended expiring patient and caregiver cards for 90 days and suspended background checks for new industry employees.

New York

The state Department of Health deemed that medical cannabis providers are essential businesses not subject to a general closure order. Those that are authorized to carry out home delivery are temporarily allowed to expand those services without written approval.

Ohio

Gov. Mike DeWine’s (R) stay-at-home order exempts medical cannabis businesses from a broader business shutdown. The State Medical Board also moved to allow doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations via telemedicine without meeting patients in person. Additionally, regulators are letting patients phone in orders ahead of their arrival at dispensaries to reduce time spent inside.

Oregon

Regulators approved rules to allow curbside delivery of marijuana at licensed retail locations and to increase medical cannabis sales limits. They also moved to make it easier to obtain cannabis worker permits.

Pennsylvania

Regulators deemed medical cannabis providers as “life-sustaining” operations that are exempt from Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) order to close businesses in general. They also took other steps, including allowing patients to have marijuana brought to their cars outside of dispensaries and letting caregivers make deliveries to an unlimited number of patients.

Washington State

Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) stay-at-home order exempts marijuana businesses as essential, allowing them to stay open. And regulators are allowing marijuana dispensaries to carry out curbside service for medical cannabis patients.

Despite the significant number of states deeming cannabis businesses to be essential and issuing rulings temporarily expanding their services, that is not the case in every legal marijuana market.

In Nevada, for example, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) and regulators are mandating that all sales be done via delivery, effectively shuttering businesses that only have storefront operations.

And despite the accommodations, many regulators are also directing businesses to implement social distancing measures such as limits on the number of customers who can enter a retail operation at a given time or guidance on physical space between those who are standing in line—changes that can slow down operations and reduce revenue.

Still, many industry leaders seems to understand the public health necessity of such moves, and cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP, for example, issued a set of suggested voluntary guidelines for marijuana businesses to consider.

For now, industry trackers have indicated that sales are strong as consumers stock up in preparation to hunker down at home for several weeks.

Nonetheless, the industry has called on Congress to give it equal access to disaster relief funds—a request necessitated by the fact that ongoing federal prohibition means that their operations are still illegal and not generally eligible for such aid.

Legalization opponents, meanwhile, are not pleased with moves by a growing number of states to keep cannabis stores in business despite the steps intended to foster social distancing at such locations.

“We have seen numerous reports of marijuana stores with long lines of people stocking up on the drug and have additionally seen states move to keep these stores open,” Kevin Sabet, president of prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said. “Quite frankly, this presents a unique harm to public health and safety. Across the country, states are doing everything in their power to limit the gathering of people in one location. Long lines outside of establishments engaged in the distribution of marijuana should be a tremendous cause for concern.”

When it comes to consumers, while advocates have cautioned them to consider refraining from smoking or vaping for the time being due to the risk of agitating lungs amid the respiratory effects of the novel coronavirus, they have also pointed out that there are other ways to use cannabis, such as edibles.

For now, the coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the disconnect between federal and state policies: Under one set of laws cannabis is a banned drug, and under the other it’s a medicine deemed just as essential as any other.

This piece ass first published by Forbes.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo courtesy of Carlos Gracia.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Amazon Reaffirms Support For Marijuana Legalization And Says Former Workers Punished Over Cannabis Are Eligible For Employment

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Amazon is reaffirming its support for federal marijuana legalization, and it disclosed on Tuesday that its earlier decision to end drug testing for cannabis will also be retroactive, meaning former workers and applicants who were punished for testing positive for THC will have their employment eligibility restored.

The company’s move to end marijuana drug testing for many positions in June was widely celebrated by reform advocates and industry stakeholders. But at the time, Amazon only talked about ending the policy going forward.

In a new blog post, Beth Galetti, Amazon’s senior vice president of human resources, clarified that it has also “reinstated the employment eligibility for former employees and applicants who were previously terminated or deferred during random or pre-employment marijuana screenings.”

The reason for the move away from marijuana testing is multifaceted, Amazon said. The growing state-level legalization movement has made it “difficult to implement an equitable, consistent, and national pre-employment marijuana testing program,” data shows that drug testing “disproportionately impacts people of color and acts as a barrier to employment” and ending the requirement will widen the company’s applicant pool.

That said, unlike in its June announcement, Amazon’s new update places an emphasis on ending “pre-employment” drug testing for cannabis. It used broader language before, announcing that it will “no longer include marijuana in our comprehensive drug screening program.”

Amazon also reiterated that it would like to see Congress pass legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition. It cited the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) as examples of bills that it supports.

For the latter legislation—which is being sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—Amazon participated in a public comment period and submitted feedback that it shared with lawmakers in the new blog post.

“We believe the time has come for reform of the nation’s cannabis policy and we are committed to helping lead the effort,” the company said in a letter to the senators. “As your bill would achieve similar objectives, we are pleased to endorse the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act as currently drafted.”

Amazon said it specifically supports key provisions to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, expunge prior cannabis convictions and use some marijuana tax revenue for community reinvestment.

Curiously, the letter also says “we have refrained from commenting on areas where we do not have a particular view, including regulation, permitting, taxation, and interstate commerce.”

It’s that last point that raises some eyebrows, as it stands to reason that any policy on interstate cannabis commerce would be of interest to a business that delivers products across the U.S. and presumably has the infrastructure to expand its delivery services into the marijuana industry when prohibition ends.

“We are proud to largely end pre-employment testing of marijuana as a condition of employment. And we are enthused by the notable momentum in the country toward recognizing that today’s status quo is unfair and untenable,” Amazon concluded. “We are eager to work with you to secure passage of this legislation.”

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Arizona Marijuana Tax Revenue Exceeds $20 Million In August, State Reports

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Arizona collected more than $20 million in medical and adult-use marijuana tax revenue in August, data released by the state this week shows.

Medical cannabis taxes were slightly higher at $6,388,816 last month, compared to $4,542,166 collected from the recreational market, according to the Department of Revenue. The state also took in an additional $9,515,016 from the marijuana excise tax.

However, these figures are preliminary and may change, as some businesses could need additional time to send in data.

July’s cannabis tax revenue was slightly higher compared to August, with the state taking in about $400,000 more in the prior month.

While medical cannabis taxes are still outpacing those from the adult-use market, that gap has been generally been narrowing in the months since recreational sales first launched in January. That’s a trend that’s been observed across numerous states after adult-use marijuana is legalized.

However, Arizona’s medical marijuana market is well-established, and some industry experts don’t necessarily expect recreational sales to overtake the medical program for some time.

Overall cannabis tax revenue from January through August totaled $115,701,426, according to the data the Department of Revenue is reporting so far.

Other states are also seeing a windfall in marijuana tax dollars as more markets mature and sales continue to increase.

For example, Maine recreational marijuana sales broke another record in August, exceeding $10 million for the first time since the adult-use market launched in October 2020.

Adult-use cannabis sales in Illinois exceeded $120 million in August, state officials recently reported. It’s the second highest sales record since the state’s recreational market launched last year and the sixth month in a row that sales surpassed $100 million.

Massachusetts marijuana sales have topped $2 billion since the state’s adult-use market launched in late 2018, the Cannabis Control Commission reported last week.

California collected about $817 million in adult-use marijuana tax revenue during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, state officials estimated last month. That’s 55 percent more cannabis earnings for state coffers than was generated in the prior fiscal year.

A recent scientific analysis of sales data in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State found that marijuana purchases “have increased more during the COVID-19 pandemic than in the previous two years.”

In July alone, at least three states saw record-breaking sales for recreational cannabis. The same goes for Missouri’s medical marijuana program.

Michigan marijuana sales broke another record in July with more than $171 million in cannabis transactions, according to data from the state’s regulatory body. There were $128 million in adult-use sales and $43 million in medical cannabis purchases.

Throughout the pandemic, many states allowed cannabis retailers to remain open—with governors and regulators in several markets declaring marijuana businesses to be essential services—and some jurisdictions issued emergency rules allowing curbside pickup, delivery services or other more relaxed policies in order to facilitate social distancing.

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Maine Marijuana Sales Broke Another Record In August, Exceeding $10 Million For First Time

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Maine recreational marijuana sales broke another record in August, exceeding $10 million for the first time since the adult-use market launched in October 2020.

The state’s Office of Marijuana Policy reported that the state’s 53 adult-use cannabis shops brought in about $10.2 million in marijuana purchases last month. And that translates into about $1 million in tax revenue for the state, which has a population of just 1.3 million.

By comparison, Maine cannabis sales for recreational consumers amounted to just $1.1 million during the first month of retail sales less than a year ago. That record has been broken each subsequent month.

While August proved to be a record-breaking month for marijuana purchases—with 133,969 sales transactions—it’s only slightly higher compared to July, when the state saw about $9.4 million in adult-use purchases. Those figures don’e include medical cannabis sales, which are tracked separately.

Via Maine Office of Marijuana Policy.

According to the Portland Press Herald, regulators have credited summer tourism for the sales spike.

But in general, states across the U.S. have seen similar trends over recent years. And marijuana sales records have been consistently broken over the past year despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Adult-use cannabis sales in Illinois exceeded $120 million in August, state officials recently reported. It’s the second highest sales record since the state’s recreational market launched last year and the sixth month in a row that sales surpassed $100 million.

Arizona brought in about $21 million in medical and adult-use marijuana tax revenue in July, state officials recently reported on a new webpage that enables people to more easily track how the industry is evolving.

California collected about $817 million in adult-use marijuana tax revenue during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, state officials estimated last month. That’s 55 percent more cannabis earnings for state coffers than was generated in the prior fiscal year.

A recent scientific analysis of sales data in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State found that marijuana purchases “have increased more during the COVID-19 pandemic than in the previous two years.”

In July alone, at least three states saw record-breaking sales for recreational cannabis. The same goes for Missouri’s medical marijuana program.

Michigan marijuana sales broke another record in July with more than $171 million in cannabis transactions, according to data from the state’s regulatory body. There were $128 million in adult-use sales and $43 million in medical cannabis purchases.

Throughout the pandemic, many states allowed cannabis retailers to remain open—with governors and regulators in several markets declaring marijuana businesses to be essential services—and some jurisdictions issued emergency rules allowing curbside pickup, delivery services or other more relaxed policies in order to facilitate social distancing.

Marijuana Legalization Doesn’t Lead To Increased Youth Use, American Medical Association Study Finds

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