In Good Health in Brockton and other marijuana stores throughout Massachusetts are being forced to stop selling recreational marijuana effective March 24 until April 7 in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, after the governor deemed adult use pot sales “nonessential.” The business said it will be forced to lay off employees as a result of the situation.
BROCKTON – The line stretched around the building at In Good Health in Brockton on Monday, as customers rushed to the business to stock up on marijuana products, ahead of Gov. Charlie Baker’s order for recreational pot sales and all other “nonessential” businesses to close as part of the state’s effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
One customer said that as soon as he heard Baker make his statements during the governor’s Monday morning press conference, he drove to In Good Health and spent $250 (after tax) on a half ounce of marijuana to last him a few weeks, then waited about an hour in a line to get in the door. The Brockton business has been using yellow markers on the ground outside to keep customers six feet apart, practicing social distancing, while limiting the number of people allowed inside to five at a time.
“I knew I should get over here before the line got too crazy,” said Jim, of Weymouth, who asked The Enterprise not to use his last name over concerns with his employer. “The line already doubled in size since I arrived. Normally, I walk right in and out in less than five minutes. It’s way more packed than I’ve ever seen it.”
Baker issued a stay-at-home advisory and ordered all nonessential businesses to close effective noon on Tuesday through at least April 6 in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which has caused more than 400 deaths throughout the country and resulted in more than 33,400 confirmed cases in the U.S., as of deadline for this story. Baker said recreational marijuana sales are not essential, adding that the legal pot shops attract large crowds, including customers from out of state. Baker said medical marijuana sales are still being allowed to continue. And the Massachusetts governor also said he is allowing liquor stores to stay open during this time.
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The temporary ban on recreational marijuana sales is leading to layoffs at In Good Health in Brockton, which has more than 100 employees, according to David Noble, president of the company. While In Good Health will remain open for medical marijuana patients, its recreational marijuana sales account for about 75 percent of business there, Noble said.
“We will scale back the workforce temporarily to meet the reduced demand that will result from suspending recreational sales,” said Noble, in a statement provided to The Enterprise. “We will be forced to lay off some retail dispensary staff, but we hope and believe that we will rehire all of these individuals once recreational sales are cleared to re-open. We do not have an exact number as of now.”
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Noble said he understands the need to shut down recreational marijuana sales at this time.
“We support the state’s decision to prevent the spread of coronavirus by suspending recreational sales until the crisis ends and we are committed to working with city leaders in Brockton, so that we can safely serve residents needing medical marijuana and play an important role in knocking this disease down,” said Noble, whose business has operated in Brockton since 2015 at 1200 W. Chestnut St., first as a medical marijuana dispensary, before adding recreational sales last year.
However, some advocates for the marijuana industry are opposed to Baker’s decision to shut down recreational sales, especially while allowing liquor stores to remain open. Morgan Fox, a spokesperson for the National Cannabis Industry Association, said recreational marijuana sales should be allowed to continue “in some form,” encouraging Massachusetts officials to permit delivery and curbside pickup during the coronavirus outbreak, to allow the “fledgling” industry to stay afloat.
“Not allowing for continued access to cannabis through regulated means will likely drive consumers to the unregulated market, which is untested and unsafe,” Fox said. “(Unregulated marijuana dealers) could be spreading the coronavirus, or not taking the sanitary measures or safety protocols that regulated businesses are required to do. … Here’s something for people to consider: It’s probably useful for people to have an objectively safer alternative to alcohol, if they are going to be locked inside for three months. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”
Peter Bernard, vice president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, gave a sarcastic response to Baker’s decision.
“Go ahead and have your Scotch, folks. But we’re going to go back to prohibition for a few weeks when it comes to cannabis,” Bernard said. “Congrats to the governor for leaving liquor stores open. Yay for that. We can see where the priorities of the commonwealth lie.”
Emily Conley, a Rockland mother who’s out of a job as a hairdresser, who went to In Good Health on Sunday to pick up enough marijuana wax to last her three weeks, said she supports Gov. Baker’s decision to call a timeout on recreational marijuana sales and other business considered nonessential. Conley said she fears for the marijuana store’s retail staff who have to interact with hundreds of customers each day, even though the In Good Health workers were wearing gloves and masks when she went there. However, Conley said liquor stores should be closed too because it’s also an unnecessary risk for their employees and customers.
“They have families and loved ones they have to worry about, too,” Conley said. “It’s a scary time for everyone. We need to be safe. Pot will be there when we’re done with this.”