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As The Nation Shelters In Place, Cannabis Retail Adjusts To New Reality

March 24, 2020

Like every other aspect of life, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has begun to affect the cannabis industry. Also like the public health and economic responses to COVID-19, the cannabis response is a patchwork of various practices as business leaders and state regulators follow their own judgment.

Determined to remain open but hoping to protect staff and customers, several states have instituted curbside pickup programs. Washington State’s Liquor and Cannabis Board quickly adopted new rules promoting proper distancing practices that allow retailers to essentially set up a service area outside their store so customers can make a purchase without entering the premises. Curbside service is only open to medical marijuana cardholders, and drive-through windows are not allowed. Washington concurrently announced that it would relax enforcement of the law prohibiting children from entering cannabis retailers as an acknowledgement of the hardship of widespread school closures and the difficulty of securing childcare right now.

Illinois and Michigan have also introduced curbside pickup programs. Michigan’s program involves customers placing orders through a retailer’s website; when customers arrive at the store they can call in and an employee will bring their purchase to their car. The Michigan Regulatory Agency will also expedite applications for delivery permits, promising a decision within 48 hours. Currently, Michigan has just over 50 recreational dispensaries, of which 17 offer home delivery.

In Illinois, a new curbside pickup program allows employees to leave store property with cannabis in order to deliver it to medical patrons waiting in their vehicles. However, many Chicago dispensaries have temporarily closed, with some claiming that it was impossible to serve the public while maintaining the levels of hygiene and distance necessary to prevent transmission. Illinois guidance requires proprietors to maintain proper distancing in their stores and to intervene if people are not spacing themselves adequately.

Nevada has taken a stronger stance, ordering all cannabis storefronts closed and shifting all operations to delivery. To accommodate the leap in deliveries, which has been accompanied by a general surge in demand, Nevada’s Marijuana Enforcement Division is implementing virtual reality delivery vehicle inspection. Before the outbreak, 38 retailers provided delivery in Nevada, but all dispensaries statewide have now been issued 60-day licenses to do so. Curbside pickup will not be allowed. Leading Las Vegas retailer Planet 13 announced it had added three delivery vehicles to its fleet—for a total of eight—and will run delivery twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

In California, dispensaries are staying open. A miscommunication regarding Governor Gavin Newsom’s shelter in place order led a number of cities, including San Francisco and San Jose, to close theirs before reopening them the next day. Nonetheless, all “essential businesses” must still follow social distancing guidelines that will limit the stores to 10 customers inside at a time.

In Canada, Canopy Growth closed all of its corporate-owned Tweed and Tokyo Smoke stores in an effort to protect its workers. “This is a big decision but it was also an easy one to make—our retail teams are public-facing and have been serving an above-average volume of transactions in recent days,” CEO David Klein said in a statement.—Danny Sullivan

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