What COVID-19 Could Do for the Cannabis Industry

It’s clear that COVID-19 has changed almost everything about life in America at present. Every day, cities, states and the federal government make new mandates in an effort to keep people safe and secure from the severe respiratory illness ravaging populations around the world — and all of those mandates disrupt regular life to the detriment of business. All non-essential businesses have been forced to limit their hours, and for the cannabis industry, which has been struggling to see success over the past year, these changes could spell the end for many small, local growers and dispensaries striving to find a foothold.

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Then again, the COVID-19 mandates could help the cannabis industry thrive. There are signs that this pandemic could create greater acceptance and accessibility for cannabis products. Even in the midst of a crisis, here are a few good indications about what could change for the better forever for cannabis businesses:

Cannabis Becomes Essential

Amidst stay-at-home and social distancing orders, many businesses have been forced to close down to prevent the unnecessary risk of spread of disease. That would mean that millions of Americans would suddenly lose access to cannabis, and many of those who utilize marijuana do so as an essential medical treatment for incredibly difficult and devastating conditions, like epilepsy and depression.

Fortunately, in most states where medical marijuana is permitted, the governments have deemed the drug to be an essential good, meaning that access to it is protected even during times of crisis. Medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed to remain open, as long as they adhere to precautions designed to keep employees and customers safe. In some states, like California and Illinois, even recreational marijuana dispensaries are considered essential — and residents can find out more about nearby dispensaries and operating hours here: weedmaps.com.

Marijuana Regulations Loosen 

There are several crucial differences between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana, even in states where both are legal. For one, medical cannabis products tend to be much higher quality and have greater potency than recreational goods, and for another, medical marijuana is taxed at a much, much lower rate and can be deducted from state taxes. Thus, having access to medical marijuana can be advantageous — but that access is strictly limited to those who truly need medical weed. Most states have several hoops that prospective medical users must jump through to obtain a prescription or medical pot license. Though the requirements vary from state to state, you can find a rough guide here: thestreet.com.

Many of those restrictions seem to be loosening. Though users still need a valid medical reason to pursue a medical marijuana card, those interested in renewing a prescription or seeking a license can now do so via telemedicine, meaning they can speak to a qualified medical professional over the phone or via video chat. This lightens the load on health care staff who need to focus their attention on the pandemic, and it ensures that those who do need medical marijuana access can easily obtain it.

Marijuana Access Improves

Unfortunately, many of the people who need access to medical marijuana are exactly the people who should not be venturing into public spaces. Medical marijuana is often used to treat serious conditions, plenty of which place someone at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, diseases like those listed here: cdc.gov. Thus, few states want medical marijuana patients in any public space, let alone the close quarters of a medical dispensary.

As a result, states are making it easier for medical marijuana patients to obtain the drugs they need to maintain health and wellness. In many states, dispensaries are now allowed to process transactions from the curb, which allows customers to remain in their private vehicles. Some states are sanctioning online sales of cannabis products, and others are even permitting home deliveries. This makes marijuana purchases safer during the pandemic, but it also makes them faster and more convenient.

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Cannabis Sales Increase

Finally, it is no secret that the cannabis industry has been suffering for about a year. Despite more and more states decriminalizing the drug and legalizing recreational use, the demand for marijuana products has steadily declined for months, and many dispensaries have struggled to stay afloat.

Yet, the fear and anxiety surrounding this unprecedented global health crisis have driven many to find comfort in substances — especially safe and sometimes salubrious ones like pot. Before states began issuing stay-at-home orders, many dispensaries were enjoying long lines of customers who were stocking up on weed for the weeks of quarantine ahead. This, in addition to the “essential” status of dispensaries, could save the entire industry, for now and for years into the future.

It is undeniable that we are living in a time worthy of the history books — a time that could change not only how the cannabis industry functions but also how the government works, how the healthcare system works and so much more. Hemp and marijuana businesses should do what they can to assuage the fears of their customers and to continue delivering the high-quality cannabis products Americans expect — and that alone could keep the marijuana industry thriving through this crisis and after the pandemic passes.

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