Medical Marijuana: Keeping Coronavirus Out of Cannabis 

Dispensaries remain open, but with some changes

While many businesses in major metropolitan areas have closed their doors for the foreseeable future, medical cannabis patients don't have to worry about most dispensaries closing.

Tucson Southern Arizona Integrated Therapies is the only dispensary in Tucson that has temporarily closed for now.

In fact, most have seen booming business since the COVID-19 outbreak as worried cardholders stock up on cannabis.

Since cannabis is a medicine, it is an essential service and dispensaries will continue to sell products as usual, said Sam Richard, Executive Director for the Arizona Dispensaries Association.

But "everyone's doing things a little differently," he said.

Several dispensaries have posted notices on their websites detailing their response to COVID-19 emphasizing patient and employee safety and following Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

Common precautions include limiting the number of patients inside the dispensary, only allowing people in the waiting room and frequently wiping down surfaces. Dispensaries have encouraged employees who feel sick to use their paid time off.

Many dispensaries have also changed their hours, opening late, closing early or both.

Some, like TruMed in Phoenix, have transitioned to fulfilling online orders only, while others still allow to-go orders if patients know what they want. Downtown Dispensary in Tucson has installed special air filters to ensure a sterile environment.

However, many dispensaries have seen stocked items dwindle, especially regarding flower. But shortages are the result of the sudden purchasing shock, Richard said, and dispensaries should have their usual menu items available within a couple days.

Dispensaries across the country experienced a spike in sales over the second weekend of March, but industry experts see little need for concern for the moment.

Dispensaries may not update online menus daily, so call ahead to find out which products remain available. However, keep in mind that dispensary workers are likely busy right now and you may have to wait on the line to talk to someone.

Though patients susceptible to respiratory illness likely avoid inhalation products already, patients concerned about contracting the virus may consider other products such as edibles, oils or tinctures.

Some dispensaries have recommended ill patients stay home to avoid exposing the virus to other susceptible patients. But dispensaries with delivery will continue to provide the service and other may yet decide to adopt delivery mechanisms should social isolation continue.

In the event of extended isolation, dispensaries may also begin offering more online deals while suspending others.

Many social gatherings, such as lounges and this month's Marijuana Industry Trade Association meeting have also been closed or canceled, said Tim Sultan with MITA.

The main concern lies with elderly and other vulnerable patients, Richard said.

More than 20 percent of Arizona patients are older than 61 years old, according to the Arizona Department of Health's February report. About 5,300 patients have illnesses like cancer or AIDS that could compromise their immune system.

While business remains relatively steady for now, the virus may still have impacts on the industry. Much of the cannabis industry's packaging and hardware production occurs in China, where the virus began.

For example, vape cartridge manufacturer CCell, located in the Shenzhen region of China, produces most the country's cannabis cartridges. With workers quarantined and production ceased, industry supply chains could be interrupted by the virus.

For now though, patients can stay home and medicate at least knowing they'll retain access to cannabis.


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