Many businesses in major metropolitan areas in Arizona have closed their doors for the foreseeable future, but medical cannabis patients don’t have to worry about dispensaries closing.
Since cannabis is a medicine, it is an essential service, and dispensaries will continue to sell products as usual, said Sam Richard, executive director of the Arizona Dispensaries Association.
But “everyone’s doing things a little differently,” he said.
Several dispensaries have posted notices on their websites detailing their response to COVID-19 emphasizing patient and employee safety and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Common precautions include limiting the number of patients inside the dispensary, only allowing people in the waiting room, and frequently wiping down surfaces. Dispensaries have encouraged employees who feel sick to use their paid time off.
Many dispensaries also have changed their hours, opening late, closing early or both.
Some, like TruMed in Phoenix, have transitioned to fulfilling online orders only, while others still allow to-go orders if patients know what they want. Downtown Dispensary in Tucson has installed special air filters to ensure a sterile environment.
However, many dispensaries have seen stocked items dwindle, especially flower. But shortages are the result of the sudden purchasing shock, Richard said, and dispensaries should have their usual menu items available within a couple of days.
Dispensaries across the country experienced a spike in sales over the second weekend of March, but industry experts see little need for concern for the moment.
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Dispensaries may not update online menus daily, so patients may want to call ahead to find out which products remain available. However, keep in mind that dispensary workers are likely busy right now and you may have to wait on hold to talk to someone.
Patients susceptible to respiratory illness likely avoid inhalation products already, but those concerned about contracting the virus may consider other products such as edibles, oils, or tinctures.
Some dispensaries have recommended that ill patients stay home to avoid exposing other susceptible patients to the virus. But dispensaries with delivery will continue to provide the service, and others may yet decide to adopt delivery mechanisms should social isolation continue.
In the event of extended isolation, dispensaries also may begin offering more online deals while suspending others. Mint Dispensary, which has locations in Guadalupe and Mesa, stated in a recent web posting it would begin offering bulk deals so patients could stock up. Mint also closed its cafe, which offers hot food items, saying it “will be temporarily closed until further notice in an effort to reduce traffic and maintain a safe distance between patients.”
Mikel Weisser, director of the state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said he's heard complaints from a few patients about the changes. One patient he spoke with recently waited for about 90 minutes at a Phoenix-area dispensary, he said, while the store allowed only four people in at a time.
The virus could also have an impact on the campaign to legalize marijuana with a ballot initiative this November. Weisser's in a band and part of an awareness campaign to educate rural Arizona about the Smart and Safe Act — but two shows were recently canceled in Jerome and Prescott.
Many social gatherings, such as lounges and this month’s Marijuana Industry Trade Association meeting, have also been closed or canceled, said Tim Sultan of MITA.
The main concern lies with elderly and other vulnerable patients, Richard said.
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More than 20 percent of Arizona medical marijuana patients are older than 61 years old, according to the Arizona Department of Health’s February report. About 5,300 patients have illnesses like cancer or AIDS that could compromise their immune system.
While business remains relatively steady for now, the virus may still have impacts on the industry. Much of the cannabis industry’s packaging and hardware production occurs in China, where the virus began.
For example, vape cartridge manufacturer CCell, located in the Shenzhen region of China, produces most of the country’s cannabis cartridges. With workers quarantined and production ceased, industry supply chains could be interrupted by the virus.
For now, though, patients can stay home and medicate, knowing they’ll have access to cannabis.