Cannabis dispensaries deemed essential businesses during coronavirus lockdown

By Marc Arcas

San Francisco, Mar 26 (efe-epa).- When San Francisco went into lockdown the city initially closed its cannabis dispensaries but they were reopened just hours later after being deemed essential.

The same principle has been adopted by Los Angeles, New York, the states of Illinois and Colorado, and so many other administrations in the United States which have imposed restrictions on business premises but ordered that supermarkets, pharmacies and dispensaries must remain open.

The consumption and cultivation of cannabis is illegal at a federal level in the US and was not legalised for recreational purposes in states such as California until two years ago.

The official reason for categorising dispensaries as essential businesses and allowing them to remain open was the medical use of cannabis.

“Cannabis is an essential medicine for many San Francisco residents,” San Francisco authorities said in a statement.

“Dispensaries can continue to operate as essential businesses during this time, while practicing social distancing and other public health recommendations.”

Although the precise benefits of cannabis are under debate among the scientific community, there has been a consensus that it can alleviate pain and reduce nausea caused by chemotherapy and muscle spasms in patients with multiple sclerosis.

It can also be effective in reducing anxiety, something that has become especially relevant in the difficult days brought about by the health crisis, economic uncertainty and forced confinement.

As well as being used for therapeutic purposes there has also been a change in public perception around the drug in recent years.

David Lonsdale, CEO of CanaFarma Corp, a New York-based production company, told Efe in a telephone interview: “I think it’s fair to say that cannabis is becoming regarded much more like the liquor industry in social and political circles.”

This change in mentality, both among the general public and politicians, has been taking place at a dizzying rate, up until eight years ago, no state had legalised recreational consumption.

“I got an email from a liquor company I buy some liquor from. They said they were delighted to inform me that they had been dubbed an essential business. So, you know, in many ways the liquor industry and the cannabis industry are on a convergent path,” Lonsdale said.

Whether it was due to the medical criteria or changing social views, receiving the label of essential during the coronavirus lockdown has brought job security for the 240,000 people estimated to work in the industry in the US.

The decision could also set a precedent to completely normalise the sector, with a stronger argument to maintain the same status during any future crises such as a hurricane or other natural disaster.

“I was in San Francisco when the big earthquake hit in 1989. You know, when houses and bridges collapsed and so forth,” Lonsdale said.

“They’re extremely stressful situations, and people get overwhelmed.

“I believe that to deny them the help they can get from cannabis would be a step in the wrong direction.” EFE-EPA


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