As you all know, we’re amid a global pandemic that’s forcing unprecedented business closures. In many places, businesses providing essentials are the only ones allowed to stay open to the public. In Washington schools, restaurants, gatherings of 50 or more have been ordered to close.
Grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, pet food stores, cannabis stores, and some other retailers are allowed to remain open for now. As are public parks. But could that change?
Is Cannabis Essential?
Unlike San Francisco and New York, Seattle has yet to deem cannabis essential. But that doesn’t mean we’re facing a shut down of cannabis stores.
“The Labor & Industry designation for cannabis retail shops is Specialty Grocery,” A letter from the Craft Cannabis Alliance to Gov. Jay Inslee reads. “In the event of a lockdown, the government should designate all cannabis businesses, both recreational and medicinal, as essential businesses to ensure continuity of access to medical cannabis to treat the ongoing health issues of this impacted population.”
The L&I classification of cannabis stores is allowing cannabis sales for now, whether or not cannabis businesses are considered essential.
Medicine or Luxury?
There’s also the medical component of cannabis sales. Washington state doesn’t allow home grows and doesn’t have separate medical cannabis dispensaries, so patients have no choice but to buy from recreational cannabis retailers.
“Patients need their medicine,” Danielle Rosellison, owner of Trail Blazin’ Productions explained. “Across the world, grocery stores and pharmacies have stayed open. Across the US, other states have decided that cannabis dispensaries are necessary like grocery or pharmacy. In California, San Francisco closed cannabis stores…and then reopened them the next day due to the push back.”
Some special accommodations are being made for cannabis patients during this crisis. Washington state has no real medical cannabis program left. So closing down cannabis retailers of any kind would leave patients in a lurch.
“Our experience tells us that 88% of medical patients are […] getting their needs met through access to products that are being purchased at the widely available Washington cannabis retailers,” The Craft Cannabis Alliance letter reads. “The State of Washington already recognizes cannabis as medicine as evidenced by the exclusion of sales tax on “medical cannabis” being purchased by a registered patient (like any other medicine).”
Considering medical cannabis has been legal in Washington for well over twenty years, now seems like a terrible time to cut off access to it.
Despite being legally allowed to stay open, some cannabis retailers have decided to shut down voluntarily.
2020 Solutions in Bellingham is closed for two weeks beginning on March 18. A woman who lives next door to the retailer, Amanda Kalkwarf, described the scene at the store on March 18.
“Budtenders were jumping outside like carhops to take orders from the lines,” Kalkwarf told The Sesh. “Then going back in to prep their orders. Everyone was offered a squirt of hand sanitizer on their way in. Now there’s a red sign on the door.”
A statement from The 2020 Solutions website reads:
“For the safety of our guests and teams, all 2020 Solutions stores will close this evening at 6:00 PM and will remain closed for an estimated two weeks, at which point we will reassess the situation. We will provide further updates as they become available and as circumstances changes.”
Cannazone in Bellingham is also closing.
The Sesh spoke with Cannazone owner Julieth Jreige over the phone. Jreige explained that she planned to close on March 20, with March 19 being the last day she’d stay open for business. She is closing because she ‘wants to do her part to keep the community healthy and safe.’
Herbal Legends in Mount Vernon appears to be closed, with all hours listed as closed on Google.
The Sesh will report on other cannabis retail closures as we are made aware of them.
Unfortunately, cannabis retail closures mean more business in stores that remain open, which will make social distancing all the more difficult. There is no wrong or right in this matter however, everyone is making the best decisions they can.
Producers Remain Confident
The producers and retailers who have chosen to remain open, are having no problem selling products.
“We’re increasing production,” President of Sales at MFused Jeff Freeman told The Sesh. “But of course the safety of my team is our top priority.”
Matthew Friedlander owner of Skagit Organics also remains confident about business remaining open.
“I like living in a world where cannabis stores are considered essential!” Friedlander told The Sesh.
Rosellison is similarly confident, “we anticipate Washington cannabis stores will stay open,” she stated.
Asia and Europe don’t have robust legal cannabis markets as the U.S. does, so we can’t look to them for a template of COVID-19 shutdowns as we have other things. But cannabis retailer’s classification as a specialty grocery store in Washington state appears to be a good indicator that they’ll be able to remain open.
Another factor that is in the cannabis industry’s favor right now is tax revenue. Washington state does not have an income tax and generates a large amount of its taxes from sales tax. The sales tax revenue has taken a major hit with restaurant closures. Cannabis stores remaining open, and selling well can help generate much-needed funds.
One potential issue is if the federal government mandates closures of all non-essential businesses. Since cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, that might put cannabis stores in murky territory. It’s hard to imagine the Feds coming in and shutting them down if states don’t demand it at this point, but it’s impossible to know what will happen.
For now, doors are open and Washingtonians have plenty of cannabis. We’ll see if that changes any time soon.