Dear Marijuana Dispensary Shoppers: Put On a Mask!

Budtenders embrace social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Budtenders embrace social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ivey Altenhof
As a worker required to have a mask strapped to my sweaty face for eight hours a day, five days a week, I readily concede that wearing one sucks. It itches constantly, restricts respiratory function and begins to smell overwhelmingly of recycled coffee breath mere minutes into my shift. It fogs up my glasses, tugs painfully on my ears, and makes me look like a psychopath when I try to smile. When my dispensary first began to require all of its employees to wear personal protective equipment, I thought it was an overdue but welcome development — a small sacrifice to make in a joint (no pun intended) effort to keep the store's customers and employees healthy. I was right about everything but the "small sacrifice" part.

I couldn't have imagined how much I'd come to dread wearing this uncomfortable face diaper, or the relief I'd feel when I'm free to tear it off at the end of the day. However, now that we're all several months into the COVID-19 pandemic and the interminable mask debate, I can confidently say that the only thing more irritating than wearing a mask is dealing with people who refuse to put one on.

While the vast majority of consumers are graciously willing to endure a few minutes of discomfort in exchange for continued access to legal weed, my store sees a minimum of three to four PPE scofflaws per day. Generally, the employee in charge of checking IDs and adding customer information to the online queue bears the brunt of the unpleasantries.

There's no fixed profile of mask-averse shoppers. Sometimes they're coming in from states like Wyoming (where masks are not required and thus seldom worn), sometimes they're making a misguided political statement, and sometimes they've rationalized their harmful entitlement as free-thinking non-conformity. The only thing these myriad consumers have in common is that they're all equally unbearable. They stride in, confident in their mask-lessness and armed with bullshit excuses, ignoring the glares of compliant customers now forced to share a waiting room with them.

The most common claim we hear is that wearing a mask exacerbates respiratory conditions such as asthma — as if smoking flower or concentrates somehow doesn't — and, according to store policy, we have to still let them in. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, however, medical-grade personal protective equipment won't reduce oxygen intake when worn properly, and unless your symptoms are severe enough to require daily medications, most mild asthma sufferers should have no problem wearing a mask for a few minutes. If you truly cannot breathe with a mask on, stay home and have someone else shop for you.

Face-covering enforcement has been a daily fixture of budtenders' lives since the weeks leading up to Governor Polis's official statewide mask mandate, which went into effect June 16. Very few cannabis industry professionals feel comfortable in the role of disciplinarian: We're here to help you find a product you enjoy, and maybe shmooze our way into a complimentary online review, not yell at you for breaking the rules. Mask-wearing is just the latest entry in the litany of regulations we have to chastise customers into following — including everything from not taking weed on a plane to putting your phone away — only it's much more serious than kowtowing to the whims of the MED; it can be quite literally a matter of life and death. It seems highly unlikely that the state will be in a position to end the mask edict when it's slated to expire on August 15, and mask-deniers bear some of the responsibility for prolonging this endless outbreak.

My employer hasn't always made it easy for budtenders to enforce the mask protocol. Each customer has to pull their mask down so we can verify their identity, a state-compliant process that nevertheless manages to rankle several people per day. Medical exemptions and inconsistent policy on both a corporate and governmental level compound these frustrations. Instead of just happily selling people weed, budtenders now have to field aggrieved statements like "You didn't make us do this two months ago" all day long, hiding our grimaces behind the uncomfortable masks we have to wear.

Mask mandates alone won't be sufficient to pull us out of our collective COVID-ian nightmare, but widespread use of PPE has been shown to reduce the spread of the virus by up to 85 percent, according to the World Health Organization. Despite the maddening discomfort of long-term wear, covering your potentially droplet-spreading face is much more than just an act of social courtesy; it's an essential component in the fight against an obstinate pandemic, a sacrifice made even more urgent as local cases of COVID-19 rose in recent weeks.

Budtenders, grocers, medical professionals and everyone in the service industry have been sweating and suffering behind their masks for months now in order to keep their bills paid and some form of society going. In light of the dire circumstances we find ourselves in, the refusal to wear to a mask lays your selfishness as bare as your face.
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Byron Graham is a writer, comedian and gentleman thief from Denver. Co-host of Designated Drunkard: A Comedy Drinking Game, the deathless Lion's Lair open mic and the Mutiny Book Club podcast, Byron also writes about comedy for Westword. He cannot abide cowardice, and he's never been defeated in an open duel.
Contact: Byron Graham