A handful of jurisdictions around the Bay Area have said
that marijuana dispensaries are considered “essential businesses”
under the widespread shelter-in-place mandates enacted this week, but advocates
are urging governments to ensure they continue to operate throughout the state and
Santa Cruz, Monterey, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties
have all explicitly stated that cannabis dispensaries can continue to operate along
with other vital service providers like grocery stores, pharmacies, auto
mechanics and banks, among others.
In Santa Cruz County, dispensaries may continue to operate
but with the caveat that all sales should be conducted either via home delivery
or curb-side pickup in order to maximize the effectiveness of “social distancing”
“People are still able to access their cannabis and
medication, we’re just restricting person-to-person contact as much as
possible,” said Samuel LoForti, the county’s cannabis licensing manager.
Non-retail cannabis businesses in Santa Cruz County can stay
open, but only in order to conduct the “minimum necessary operations”
while practicing social distancing, quarantining all deliveries for at least 12
hours and staggering shifts to minimize person-to-person contact.
Across the Bay Area, however, there remains some confusion
over the rule that determines what constitutes an essential business and how
that applies to the cannabis industry, which provides products to both
medicinal and recreational users – since each county’s public health officials
can interpret it somewhat differently.
In Monterey County, health officials consider agricultural
and healthcare operations to be essential businesses, according to Joann
Iwamoto, the county’s cannabis program manager.
“All legal commercial cannabis operations fall under
one of these definitions,” Iwamoto said in an emailed statement. “As
such, all legal commercial cannabis operations may remain open. However, all
social distancing requirements must be observed.”
In Contra Costa County, all “licensed
medicinal-marijuana dispensaries are allowed to stay open under the
order,” according to Contra Costa Health Services spokesman Will Harper.
The problem, however, is that since the dispensaries serve
both medical and recreational customers, it’s unclear how such a policy will be
“There are some places trying to distinguish between
medical and non-medical, but all retailers are serving both,” said Ellen
Komp, deputy director of California NORML, a cannabis advocacy organization.
“The only safe place that people can access either
recreational or medical cannabis is in one of these licensed dispensaries and
to shut those down is to send them back out to an illicit market,” Komp
said, noting that the public health effects of such a move would likely prove
to be counter-productive.
“Certainly, we want to make public health
paramount,” she said.
In some jurisdictions, officials have advised businesses to
read the rules carefully and make the best decisions they can.
“Since the shelter in place directive was issued by the
County of Alameda, the city of San Leandro is not the lead agency for purposes
of making such an interpretation of the County Health Officer’s order,”
according to an emailed statement from San Leandro Deputy
City Manager Eric Engelbart.
“The city also recognizes that there is a medical
component to each of the City’s three licensed cannabis dispensaries, all of
whom serve patients with valid medicinal recommendation letters or ID
cards,” Engelbart said.
At least one of those dispensaries is conducting sales via curb-side
pickups and deliveries, he said.
Representatives from Alameda and Santa Clara counties did
not immediately respond to requests for comment.