With mandatory stay-at-home policies becoming the norm throughout the country, multiple cities and states have required non-essential businesses to shut down in order to combat the spread of
COVID-19. The definition of what qualifies a business as essential is not always clearly defined, and has sparked a debate as to whether or not cannabis businesses are considered essential. With the expansion of cannabis programs throughout the country, and drops in total patient counts
within individual states, politicians, regulators and operators are beginning to formally answer the question of whether or not cannabis is an essential business.

A majority of states within the country now have some form of legalized cannabis program. The most common program involves medical use, with states oftentimes incorporating an adult-use program at some point after implementing a medicinal-only framework. As states allow for adult-use purchases, it is common for their medical programs to see a reduction in total patient participation in their medical programs. For example, the introduction of an adult-use program in Colorado in 2014 precipitated a reduction in total patients from 111,000 in January 2014 to 86,700 by mid-2018, a drop of approximately 22%. While the number of medical patients enrolled in individual state programs may have declined since the introduction of adult-use programs, those numbers are not indicative of the need for medicinal product.

The introduction of adult-use programs lowers the barriers for any authorized consumer to purchase cannabis. They are no longer required to register with a qualifying physician, wait in long lines to see the physician, pay for their prescription, pay for constant renewals and make sure their prescription is physically present when they go to their dispensary. The benefits of receiving a medical license depend on the specific jurisdiction, but they generally consists of waiving taxes and increasing the individual purchase limits for patients. For some patients, the cost and inconvenience of enrolling in a medical program are not significant enough to justify enrollment and it is common for individuals who meet the qualifying criteria of a patient to make purchases as an adult-use consumer.

This has to be kept in mind as states struggle to come to a decision as to whether or not cannabis is deemed as an essential business. Many jurisdictions, including San Francisco, Colorado and Pennsylvania have arrived at the decision that cannabis truly is an essential business. These decisions are representative of the culture shift in perception of cannabis as a whole. An industry that was considered illegal in many areas of the country are now deemed to be essential to the well-being of the community. This is a decision we believe other jurisdictions should follow.

If dispensaries are forced to close patients will lose access to medical products they need and the entire supply chain of one of the fastest growing industries in the country will come to a halt. At this point, we are all aware of the threat COVID-19 represents to the health and well being of our communities, but there are several steps that can be taken by cannabis operators to minimize the risk of spreading the virus while safely dispensing products to adult-use and medicinal consumers throughout the country.

Over the next several days, SIVA will continue to send out newsletters with actionable and informative information for cannabis operators, consumers and stakeholders throughout the country. As with many other businesses, we’ve had to change how we operate but we are still here to support you, your business and our community. To schedule a conference call, please contact info@sivallc.com.