While restaurants empty and bars close, patients depending on medical marijuana don’t need to worry — dispensaries have remained open, albeit with new procedures to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Dispensaries are labeled an essential service under the same umbrella as health care and pharmacies, so business closures mandated made by local governments won’t affect operations, said Vinit Patel, regional dispensary operations manager for Curaleaf, which has nearly 30 locations across Florida.
Medical marijuana businesses are adapting new procedures to encourage social distancing. Some are closing lobbies and moving operations outdoors, or allowing “herb-side pickup,” such as RiSE Dispensary in Bonita Springs.
Patients pull up to the front door and show an ID to the waiting associate. The customer hands a cash payment through their car window — all medical marijuana transactions use cash, not credit cards or checks — and the associate fills the order and delivers the prescription, all without leaving their car.
“(Curbside pickup) is indefinite until we find anything different that leads us to believe it’s safe to bring customers back inside the building,” said Jessica Brown, general manager. “Otherwise, it’s business as usual.”
RiSE is asking patients to place their order online to speed up the pickup process, Brown said.
Curaleaf is still using its lobby while waiting for the state to approve its request to move operations to curbside pickup.
“We’re hoping the state allows us to (move pickup outside) sooner rather than later,” Patel said. “The goal would be to refocus the entire process to limit interaction. Patients would never get out of their vehicles.”
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Until then, Curaleaf is limiting the number of patients on the sales floor and asking other customers to wait in their cars. The business is using a restaurant queuing app to call people when it’s their turn.
Last week saw an increase in sales as patients rushed to fill medical marijuana orders, Patel said.
“Sales jumped as more and more news came out about retailers closing and people were told to work from home,” he said. “Some were in fear of losing access. People want to stock up. It’s not widely known we’re an essential service. We’ll be open through the thick and thin of this to allow them access to their products.”
Curaleaf offers delivery and is waiving fees to encourage patients to stay at home, Patel said. The dispensary is reserving the first hour of business for people 60 years old or older.
“We know they are the most susceptible populations, so we want to give them an isolated block of time,” Patel said.
Columbia Care, another of Bonita Springs’ more than half-dozen dispensaries, is waiting for state approval for curbside pickup. However, lobbies will remain open to customers, said Arnetra Shettleworth, Columbia Care Florida’s market director.
“Our facilities are being cleaned every 60 minutes and between transactions,” Shettleworth said. “We even open the door so patients don’t need to touch it.”
The dispensary also saw an uptick in business as the worry of COVID-19 business closures spread last week, Shettleworth said. Columbia Care is working to hasten delivery times from its distributors to the dispensaries to keep the store fully stocked.
“Our objective is to remain open and take every precaution possible,” Shettleworth said. “Our patients need us. Without medical marijuana dispensaries, we would really put our patients at jeopardy.”
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