Legal Marijuana Seeks Essential Business Status, Delivery Alternatives

As questions remain over how long dispensaries will stay open in Colorado, customers are buying big.
As questions remain over how long dispensaries will stay open in Colorado, customers are buying big. Scott Lentz
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been no official statement from the state level about marijuana's standing among essential and non-essential businesses as people are told to stay home in Colorado.

So far, it's been more about what Governor Jared Polis and state health officials haven't said. Recent executive orders from Polis, the state Department of Public Health and Environment and local governments haven't listed dispensaries among the businesses forced to temporarily close per state or local orders, which so far include gyms, theaters, casinos, spas, barber shops and salons, tattoo and massage parlors, horse tracks and bars and restaurants (for on-site consumption).

Despite the cloudy future, dispensaries are planning ahead to keep serving consumers, especially medical marijuana patients.

“We do want our medical patients to have as much access to medical marijuana as possible, but we also want to provide a safe environment for them,” says DANK dispensary spokesman Dale Satterly. “We have been discussing options on what to do, and are trying to stay open as long as we can.”

Like the majority of dispensaries in Denver, DANK is suggesting that customers and patients submit their orders online for in-store pickup to avoid interaction and time spent at the dispensary, as well as following a list of new protocols for store sanitization and customer and staff safety. But for dispensaries that serve medical patients, this can cause a little extra stress.

“It’s hard to say what to do at the moment,” says Satterly. “DANK hasn’t heard anything on whether medical marijuana will be seen as an essential yet in the state, so we’re trying to do the best we can to help those who need medical marijuana.”

We've reached out to Polis's administration, the CDPHE and the state Marijuana Enforcement Division about the status of dispensaries and medical marijuana access in the event of further social restrictions. In the meantime, though, dispensaries remain open, and other states and even local Colorado communities are providing some precedent for keeping them that way.

States such as Pennsylvania and New York have deemed dispensaries as essential, as have local authorities in Los Angeles and San Francisco. In Colorado, Summit County also declared dispensaries as essential businesses in a public-health order earlier this week that shut down multiple businesses. But both Polis and Mayor Michael Hancock have remained quiet on the subject.

“Right now we’re in a position where, if the dispensaries shut down statewide, we’re going to have a bad situation happen,” says marijuana and hemp lobbyist Cindy Sovine. “Veterans use medical marijuana to treat their PTSD, and there are kids who use it for seizures. If the people who need it don't have access to it, there could be some potential deaths.”

Although medical marijuana delivery is now legal in Colorado, only one dispensary in Boulder, the Dandelion, has secured a permit to deliver since the new business option became available in 2020, and that will only be done within Boulder city limits for Dandelion members — a small portion of the 81,893 medical marijuana patients registered in Colorado as of February.

Sovine says she's currently working with the MED and Denver officials to make sure medical marijuana is declared an essential need during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s a process in making people understand how serious this is,” she explains. “There are thousands of patients who use that medicine to control debilitating conditions, and there are no alternatives if medical marijuana isn’t seen as an essential.”

Until an official decision is made concerning medical marijuana, some dispensaries are urging the state to look at alternatives for consumers to pick up their medicine.

“We’ve been urging an emergency rule to allow delivery and curbside pick-ups if we do go toward a state or nationwide quarantine,” says Peter Marcus, communications director for dispensary chain Terrapin Care Station. “It’s about making sure patients have access in the event of a quarantine.”

Dispensaries have been reporting large amounts of products sold to medical and recreational users alike recently, with multiple stores around town reporting unusually high sales in March despite social distancing and long lines.
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