One of the most spectacular changes to legislation to come out of the COVID-19 crisis is almost certainly the development of medical marijuana (and, in some states, marijuana in general) as an essential good. As food and medicine, cannabis is necessary for many people to maintain their typical lifestyles. Those who suffer from serious medical conditions, like cancer, MS, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, and epilepsy, rely heavily on marijuana products to maintain a baseline of health. Thus, the determination that medical marijuana dispensaries will remain open despite widespread shutdowns of retail businesses is a major win for the cannabis community.
Unfortunately, though medical marijuana patients ostensibly still have access to the drugs they need to manage their conditions, many still fear the risk of venturing outside their homes. Many of the same conditions that qualify a user for medical marijuana also make them susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19. Fortunately, many states have loosened restrictions for dispensaries during this time, so those requiring essential marijuana products should be able to access them in at least one of the following ways.
Most states’ pre-coronavirus marijuana regulations stated that transactions between dispensaries and patrons needed to occur within dispensary walls. This helps drug enforcement authorities identify black-market transactions and keep the cannabis trade legal and safe.
However, this strict policy has loosened in the age of COVID-19. Now, many states permit dispensaries to take online or phone orders and payment and to deliver purchased goods to customers waiting outside dispensary premises. For at least as long as coronavirus remains a threat, those at-risk can remain outside, separate from others inside their own vehicles, and still have access to the marijuana products they need.
Even before COVID-19, many states did permit dispensary patrons to take advantage of home delivery services — which was a remarkably intelligent regulatory move. After all, black-market cannabis vendors have long offered home delivery; if dispensaries were to have any hope of eliminating illegal sales, they need to provide comparable services. Fortunately, home delivery has expanded into many states where it was once prohibited, again increasing access for those at risk of serious disease.
Social Distancing in Dispensaries
Medical marijuana patients who cannot or prefer not to make use of online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery will need to venture inside dispensaries, which means coming into closer contact with more people. States continuing with quarantine regulations continue to require dispensaries (and other public spaces) to keep a six-foot space around patrons, and many mandates that everyone in public spaces wears masks around at least their mouth and nose. Patients at risk for COVID-19 might choose to wear a larger face shield and visit a 24-hour dispensary later at night or during non-peak hours in the middle of the day.
Though there is a legal limit for how much cannabis products one person can purchase at one time, those at risk of serious disease should consider increasing the size of their home stash to reduce the need to visit the dispensary. Even more, medical marijuana patients should consider growing their own cannabis crops, which they can then use to craft their own marijuana treatments from home.
Medical marijuana patients receive their licenses through state agencies, which regulate medical marijuana dispensaries and products. In most states, these cards expire and require regular renewal, which in turn often demands a doctor’s visit and additional “prescription” of marijuana treatment.
However, in the times of coronavirus, visiting the doctor’s office can be downright dangerous. Medical marijuana patients need a way to see a physician qualified to renew their licenses without imperiling their health through potential exposure to COVID-19. Enter: telemedicine. Many states now permit medical marijuana users to achieve diagnoses and medical marijuana recommendations via telehealth solutions, which keeps them out of doctor’s offices and away from harm.
COVID-19 has changed almost everything about everyday life, especially for those particularly susceptible to severe illness from the virus. Those with weak respiratory systems or who are immunocompromised must do everything short of stay locked in their homes and avoid contact with everyone. Fortunately, the cannabis industry has evolved over the past few months to better deliver to patients who are at risk of serious disease. Solutions like home delivery and telemedicine should keep those who rely on marijuana treatments safe from all illnesses, including the coronavirus.