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COVID-19: Impact on Cannabis Dispensaries in Massachusetts

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many cannabis users are finding themselves struggling to obtain medicine. While medical cannabis dispensaries are considered essential establishments like other healthcare establishments, recreational (aka “Adult Use”) dispensaries are not. The main reason these recreational dispensaries have been shut down in Massachusetts is due to the “ton of traffic” they draw, according to Governor Baker, which goes against guidance provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding social distancing. This poses a huge challenge to the many cannabis users who do not have a medical card but do use cannabis for medical reasons. The impact of shutting down recreational dispensaries without an alternative for the many people who use them on a regular basis, and for medical reasons, may have been a large oversight, especially in light of the fact that there aren’t a large number of delivery services available across Massachusetts yet. Governor Baker’s intentions are in the right place and he’s doing his best to aid in the resolution of this COVID-19 pandemic, however, additional support is truly needed for cannabis users.

So what are people doing then? They’re either suffering without medicine, or they’re going back to illicit black market transactions to obtain the medicine they need. This shutdown is likely to set the industry in Massachusetts back a few steps and unfortunately undo some of the hard work the Cannabis Control Commission has been doing to legitimize it. Swift action is needed to prevent too much of a regression in the recreational cannabis sector in Massachusetts. The Commission should consider reducing the amount of red tape surrounding the establishment or modification of businesses to help accommodate the quickly changing landscape in Massachusetts. The expeditious establishment of additional dispensaries and services is needed, especially now.

Ideally, Governor Baker and the Commission will work together on a solution that doesn’t involve a complete shutdown of recreational dispensaries, and if nothing else, allow for recreational dispensaries to modify their services to accommodate curbside pick and home delivery. While access to “recreational” cannabis may not seem a priority to many, it is for those relying on it to help with their chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting or spasms and rigidity due to multiple sclerosis, despite not having a medical card. While these people would likely qualify for medical cannabis, the availability of recreational cannabis has dramatically reduced the need for users to actually obtain a medical card, leaving many likely patients unprepared for the sudden loss of access to cannabis.

While the struggle surrounding COVID-19 is real, so are the concerns. As a healthcare professional in Boston, I’m seeing the damage COVID-19 is wreaking firsthand. Please, please... PLEASE do your part. Stay home. Stay safe. Honor the super-isolating and borderline-maddening request to maintain social distancing. It’s not easy but it is necessary. The sooner we abide by these practices, the sooner we’ll be done with this mess and be able to start reparations and hopefully return to a normal, cannabis-filled life.

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