The COVID-19 pandemic gripping the globe has brought about a new normal wherein businesses have been divided into two distinct categories: essential and non-essential. Essential businesses provide goods and services crucial to survival, such as grocery stores, banks, and gas stations. Also on that list are cannabis dispensaries and producers, something many never dreamed of only a decade ago.
Cannabis is medicine for millions of Americans, whether it be CBD tinctures or the bud itself. Hemp-derived CBD products are legal in all 50 states, while marijuana products containing THC are legal for medical use in 33 states and recreational use in 11 of those. A number of states with both medical and adult-use cannabis have opted to shutter the recreational shops but for the most part, both remain open.
Business Remains Steady
At the beginning of the pandemic, cannabis sales jumped significantly. Consumers afraid the dispensaries may close stocked up, accounting for some of the single-largest sales days since legal sales began in 2012. Since then, things have leveled out but sales are still robust. In fact, this past March marked the highest numbers of people using cannabis in the United States than ever before – no pun intended.
Many dispensaries have moved to delivery or curbside pickup only in order to promote social distancing practices, offering contactless transactions. Others have implemented appointment-only shopping or limited store hours altogether. Sanitized containers and digital payments have also become the norm when possible.
Legal Divide Still Remains
The designation of “essential business” for cannabis growers and retailers across the country has renewed the debate which has raged for decades: should the plant remain federally illegal? Marijuana containing THC is considered a Schedule I narcotic with no known therapeutic benefits and a high risk of abuse, alongside heroin and LSD. And while federal protections for cannabis businesses exist for those operating within the law of their individual jurisdictions, the “Schedule I” status still causes many problems for these companies specifically as it relates to banking.
Additionally, the majority of THC companies, both plant-touching and ancillary, have been deemed ineligible for funds from the CARES Act, the massive $2 trillion package passed by Congress in order to help Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. This includes loans from the Small Business Association (SBA) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The CBD industry has fared better, with hemp farmers being included in the most recent round of government funding meant to provide relief from the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the economy.
Despite the crisis gripping the globe, many hemp companies are still finding ways to give back to their community during this unprecedented crisis. Many are offering discounts and bonuses, specifically for those affected economically by the pandemic. Others are going the extra mile by manufacturing and distributing hand sanitizer to distribute to community members or donating N95 masks to frontline healthcare workers.
The burgeoning hemp and cannabis industries have been deemed essential during the coronavirus lockdowns, but there is still a long way to go with regards to equanimity. Perhaps this period in history will go down as the one that solidified efforts for all varieties of the marijuana plant to be legal on the federal level. Time will only tell.