Coronavirus

CDPHE: Most Cannabis Employees Will Wait for COVID-19 Vaccinations

Colorado's marijuana industry, declared essential by state and local governments during the COVID-19 pandemic, was responsible for over $2 billion in sales in 2020.
Colorado's marijuana industry, declared essential by state and local governments during the COVID-19 pandemic, was responsible for over $2 billion in sales in 2020. Jacqueline Collins
While marijuana dispensaries were declared essential during the pandemic, cannabis-industry workers are included with the general public on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's priority roster for getting vaccinated.

The CDPHE's vaccination rollout schedule doesn't specifically list marijuana employees, who could arguably fall under such categories as essential retail, agriculture, food manufacturing or medical-care providers (for the medical marijuana, at least). But instead, they'll be in the final stage unless they qualify under other categories.

Colorado's vaccination schedule is currently split into two stages, with the first divided into several phases. High-risk individuals (mostly the elderly living in group settings), first responders and health-care workers were the first to receive vaccinations under phase 1A. After that, teachers and those over 65 got to line up. The next phase of 1B starts March 5 and includes grocery workers and those over sixty, among others. On March 21, the state will move to phase 1B.4, which includes those over fifty and essential food manufacturing and agricultural workers. But marijuana employees responsible for producing packaged infused foods don't fall in those categories, according to the CDPHE.

"Agricultural workers are eligible in 1B.4 if they are engaged in agricultural food production. With such a limited supply of vaccine coming to Colorado, the state is not able to capture every workforce. The governor and CDPHE are very hopeful that future increases in vaccine supply will allow the general population to become eligible sooner, which will include cannabis-industry workers," says a department spokesperson.

Native Roots, one of the largest retail marijuana chains in Colorado, has been talking to the department in hopes of moving marijuana workers into 1B.4, but according to Native Roots public affairs director Shannon Fender, her company has not yet gotten a solid answer.

The Colorado-based Marijuana Industry Group would also like to see marijuana-industry workers included in 1B.4, and is communicating with Governor Jared Polis's office as the vaccination rollout continues, though director Truman Bradley acknowledges that the pandemic "is a dynamic situation, and things can certainly change."

"The Marijuana Industry Group is anxious to get essential cannabis workers protected, but we fully understand that all Coloradans are in this together," he continues. "At present, Governor Polis has determined that protecting Colorado's food-supply workers and elderly population are the two highest priorities. The governor has hard decisions to make, and MIG is continuing to work with his office to communicate when it will be this industry's turn."

Although other states with medical marijuana industries, such as California and Maryland, have moved medical marijuana workers into earlier vaccination phases, Colorado has no such plans.

Last week, in announcing the lineup for phase 1B.4, Polis announced that the general public could begin receiving vaccinations by April. His office has not yet replied to a request for comment on the status of marijuana workers.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell