In a series of executive orders, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has increasingly forced businesses to close their doors to slow the spread of COVID-19.
But there are three notable exceptions: Liquor, cannabis and lottery tickets.
Why are our vices exempt?
Some other states have deemed liquor stores and cannabis shops “essential services,” citing both an economic incentive to maintain tax revenues and concern that people with substance abuse disorders would seek urgent medical care while the system is overburdened.
That wasn’t the case in Oregon though, Brown’s spokesman, Charles Boyle, said.
“The businesses closed by the executive order were selected specifically because, from a public health perspective, those types of businesses cannot adequately implement social distancing practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — stores where customers sit or lie on furniture, for example, or pick up and examine individual pieces of jewelry,” he said.
Other states have reported people panic-buying liquor, just like they’ve panic-bought toilet paper and cleaning supplies.
Though they have the numbers, Oregon officials won’t say whether that’s happened here.
“We would like to focus all the attention on our licensees and the plight they’re in,” said Matt Van Sickle, a spokesman for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
But both liquor and cannabis stores are reporting sales are up.
“Last week we saw a huge spike when people were panic buying,” said Brett Moore, operations director for Homegrown Oregon, which has four cannabis shops in Oregon. “This week there’s a decline as people are realizing they don’t have to hoard things as much as they thought they did.”
OLCC has made several temporary rule changes to help keep alcohol and cannabis sales strong despite business closures.
Now, liquor stores can offer curbside delivery, Van Sickle said.
So can distilleries, wineries, breweries, bars and restaurants if they hold “off-premise” sales licenses. And the agency is offering 90-day temporary offsite licenses to those who don’t.
Same-day delivery hours also have been extended, from 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
Although there has been some interest in allowing curbside pickup of mixed drinks, that’s not on the table right now, Van Sickle said.
South Salem Liquor Mart has begun offering curbside pickup, but the store also is staying open to customers, manager Dillon Triance said. There now is a barrier keeping customers 6 feet from cashiers, and a direction for lines to go.
Southeast Salem’s Liquor Outlet is the third-highest grossing liquor store in Oregon, meaning curbside pickup wouldn’t work, said John Trussell, a manager there.
But the store is only letting in five customers at a time, making sure customers keep their distance, not allowing outside bags in the store, and sanitizing registers after each transaction. And it’s shut down its growler-fill station, Trussell said.
OLCC also made temporary rule changes allowing curbside pickup for cannabis.
Homegrown Oregon began offering curbside pickup as soon as the rules were announced, Moore said. On Friday, it began encouraging all its customers to place orders online for curbside pickup.
Those who want to come inside still can, but they’ll be separated from staff by a Plexiglas enclosure.
The Oregon Lottery, meanwhile, disabled video lottery machines on March 17. But it’s still selling scratch-it and jackpot game tickets in retailers that remain open.
Some critics have expressed concerns about putting people at unnecessary risk of catching COVID-19 during face-to-face ticket sales. Others worry about transmission through the lottery’s public touchscreen terminals.
“We suggest players take the same precautions they take when purchasing other goods,” lottery spokesman Matt Shelby said.
Those include washing hands, avoiding touching faces and maintaining appropriate social distancing.
“Players can check their tickets for winners via the lottery app. Winners who would rather not interact directly with others may mail in their claims directly to lottery,” he said.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-399-6779 or follow at Twitter.com/Tracy_Loew