California deems cannabis dispensaries “essential services” amid coronavirus lockdown

Following the coronavirus pandemic, many states, including California, have announced an order that asks all residents to stay at home for as much as possible, and for all non-essential businesses to close their activity. Shopping malls, gyms, and bars have all suspended their activities and the only essential services that remain open are grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, hardware stores and, surprisingly enough, cannabis dispensaries. 

It wasn’t long ago that cannabis was painted as a gateway drug, but amid the coronavirus pandemic, it seems that marijuana has landed at the top of mainstream U.S. society. While people may not be able to go to a movie or shop at the mall, they can surely stock up on their cannabis supplies. 

San Francisco dispensaries were nearly closing down

At the beginning of March, residents of the Bay Area were advised to stay at home and shelter in place, with the authorities announcing that cannabis dispensaries in San Francisco were temporarily closing down.

Headset, a cannabis market research firm, has studied the March 2020 market and showed a nearly 160% increase in cannabis sales, as compared to March last year. Another San Francisco-based cannabis and CBD product delivery company has reported more than double the number of first-time orders since the government announcements. With them, a number of other cannabis-related businesses have reported sales increases, particularly in high-CBD products such as organic CBD nugs, known to help people preserve a sense of calm.

Medicinal marijuana, a necessity

Advocacy groups have gone out of their way to push governors to ensure that patients in need of medical marijuana can still have access to these products. But not everyone who needs marijuana for therapeutic purposes has the means to officially become certified as a patient, meaning recreational businesses become crucial at this point as well.

The American public is no longer demonizing cannabis use, and neither is an increasing number of government officials. Now, there are over two-thirds of U.S. states that recognize medical cannabis needs to be legal, and 11 of these states legalizing adult use. This shows the government is finally recognizing how important it is for patients to have access to cannabis.

Cannabis dispensaries being recognized as essential businesses, together with pharmacies and grocery stores, show that authorities are now understanding that not only is cannabis not going anywhere but has become indispensable for many people. Things are moving in the right direction, after decades of fighting a costly and unnecessary war. Some are even deeming marijuana as essential as milk or bread

Other states are taking steps to maintain dispensaries open as well

The situation in California is nowhere near unique. The rest of the states were cannabis is legal are also doing the best they can to maintain legal access to cannabis during the COVID-19 outbreak. 


Public officials in Denver decided liquor stores and recreational dispensaries were not essential businesses and were ordered to close. This caused incredibly long lines to form at dispensaries all over the city, and some of them were nowhere near respecting the 6-feet-away rule. In a few days, the order was reversed. 

The media has started comparing marijuana dispensaries with liquor stores, but this is not fair at all. For a lot of people, cannabis has become a medication, but unfortunately, not all have medical marijuana cards. This is what made authorities in Colorado allow not only medical cannabis dispensaries to stay open, but recreational businesses as well. The only request was to ensure social distancing is kept, which is why many dispensaries are now selling via curbside pickup or delivery. 

New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey

Health regulators in New York state have also declared licensed medical cannabis businesses as essential and allowed them to remain open during the crisis. The officials also stated that those authorized to carry out home delivery are allowed to expand those services without the need for written approval. 

Connecticut has followed in New York’s footsteps and deemed cannabis businesses essential as well, and so did New Jersey, the only mention being that patients were now allowed to pick up their medical marijuana at dispensaries’ curbsides as well. 


In Florida, which has almost 328,000 registered medical marijuana patients, things are looking good as well, but only for registered patients. Although the state Surgeon General issued an emergency order that allowed doctors to issue medical cannabis recertifications via remote telehealth chats, people that are not on the patient rolls will not be able to obtain a prescription. 

Doctors state they see at least 20 new patients a week, meaning now, those people need to wait until the middle of April to get their first prescription written. 

New Mexico

In New Mexico, regulators allowed medical cannabis businesses to stay open but made a few other mentions as well. Besides allowing curbside pickup and encouraging delivery services, they also extended expiring patient, as well as caregiver cards for 90 days. To help 


Mike DeWine, Ohio’s Governor issued a stay-at-home order that does not include medical cannabis businesses. Dispensaries are to remain open and the State Medical Board announced that doctors can issue medical cannabis recommendations by talking to the patients on the phone. Besides, patients are now allowed to phone in orders and pick them up at the dispensaries, to reduce lines and time spent inside. 


In Pennsylvania, regulators not only deemed cannabis businesses as “life-sustaining operations”, but took a number of steps to ensure patients can get their medical needs fulfilled. They allowed patients to have their orders brought to the car outside the dispensary, as well as allowing caregivers to make deliveries to unlimited patients. 

Some states, however, did not follow the trend

Despite several states agreeing cannabis businesses are essential to the population, some other states are not of the same opinion. In Nevada, all sales need to be done via delivery, forcing those with storefront operations to shut down. 

One thing, however, they can all agree upon: social distancing measures need to be taken very seriously by anyone during these times of uncertainty. 

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