The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the lives of all Americans. Recently U.S. leadership has been asked to address numerous policy issues surrounding the state-licensed cannabis industry as well as the health and welfare of the estimated 14 percent of Americans who self-identify as current cannabis consumers.
As long as people have consumed cannabis, the ritual of sharing a joint or a pipe among friends has been a common social practice. But given what we know about COVID-19 and its transmission, it's time to stop this behavior.
The cannabis community should be cautious when it comes to various other conduits for consuming marijuana, including the use of bowls, bongs, and vape pens. Avoid direct sharing and continually keep your personal collection clean; using 90 percent + Isopropyl Alcohol is an effective and affordable way to clear any germs or pathogens off your pieces. Because COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, consumers, and in particular, those patients who may be susceptible to greater health risks, should either limit or altogether avoid their exposure to combustive smoke of any kind. Alternative delivery devices, such as vaporizer heating devices can significantly mitigate combustive smoke exposure, and of course, the use of edibles or tinctures can eliminate smoke exposure entirely.
Whenever possible, consumers should obtain a lab-tested, regulated product — though this is not a realistic option for all consumers.
We also encourage cannabis consumers and others to beware of online misinformation surrounding the use of either whole-plant cannabis or CBD as a potential remedy for the COVID-19 virus. To be clear, there is as of yet no substantiated clinical data supporting either the prophylactic or therapeutic use of cannabis products in the treatment of COVID-19.
Designating licensed medical cannabis providers as "essential services"
In recent days, regulators and elected officials in several jurisdictions throughout the country have designated state-compliant medical cannabis providers as ‘essential’ to the health and safety of the community. This classification permits these operations to stay open and to continue to provide important services to those patients who rely on them.
This designation is appropriate. There are several million state-licensed medical cannabis patients in America. Because many of these patients are among our more vulnerable populations, it is essential that they maintain uninterrupted, regulated access to lab-tested products. It's important that regulators do not reverse their course. The elderly and others must not be forced to try to obtain cannabis illegally — an environment where the potency and quality of marijuana are largely unknown and could pose risks to users’ health and safety.
In order to best protect the health of not only medical cannabis patients but also their providers, Regulators should permit these essential operators to begin in-home delivery and/or curbside pick-up programs so that patients can engage in social distancing, as recommended by the CDC and most local public health departments.
Unemployment protections and small business aid
The legal cannabis industry employs more than 240,000 American workers. To provide some perspective, the state-authorized cannabis market employs more than four times the number of American workers as the coal industry.
Yet, despite the economic and political progress that has been made in states around the country, marijuana is still defined by federal law as a Schedule I substance with no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. Federal anti-drug laws continue to define the legal cannabis industry and those who work in it, as drug felons. That is why these businesses continue to face undue discrimination under federal law, including the lack of access to banking services and a prohibition of standard business tax deductions.
By contrast, because of marijuana’s Schedule I status under federal law, state-licensed cannabis businesses will not be eligible for either financial assistance or low-interest loans under newly enacted federal legislation instructing the Small Business Administration to “provide capital and liquidity to firms affected by the coronavirus.”
Specifically, legislation has already been introduced by Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez to end this discrimination: The Ensuring Safe Capital Access for All Small Businesses Act of 2019, HR 3540. This language has also been included in The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, HR 3884, which passed the House Judiciary Committee last November on a bipartisan basis and awaits action by the full House of Representatives. The expeditious consideration of these provisions is encouraging the SBA to explicitly protect cannabis businesses and the consumers that they serve.
As we navigate this public health crisis, it is important that the emergency policies enacted be reflective of both best practices and the available science. We applaud many of the common-sense regulatory changes that have been implemented around the country thus far. At the federal level, to the extent it is possible, the Congress should work to remove those existing roadblocks and barriers that have been entrenched for decades with respect to cannabis so that relief efforts can be targeted toward this sector of the economy, and the millions of Americans who are served by it.