Alibi V.29 No.15 • April 9-15, 2020 

News on the Green

Recreational Marijuana under Fire during COVID-19

States’ Differing Pandemic Regulations Cause Stress for Cannabis Users

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Here in New Mexico, we’ve been fortunate enough to see medical marijuana dispensaries deemed essential. Patients can still get their medicine, and most dispensaries have addressed the risk of disease spread by offering curbside pickup options to keep immunocompromised patients from going inside the dispensaries. Other states with medicinal marijuana programs have followed suit, but in states where both medical and recreational marijuana are legal, a new predicament has arisen.

Massachusetts became the first state to draw a line between medical and recreational dispensaries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker ordered that nonessential businesses needed to close their doors, and while medical marijuana dispensaries were deemed essential, recreational dispensaries didn’t make the cut.

It almost makes sense. The term “recreational” implies a nonessential good or service, no? Except Massachusetts has had legal recreational marijuana since 2018, and many patients who began using cannabis medicinally since then decided it would be much easier to forgo the medical card route and just started buying their cannabis at recreational dispensaries. Those patients are now left without medicine for an undetermined amount of time, during the most stressful period in memorable American history since 9/11.

Some patients in this situation ran out to stockpile marijuana before the recreational dispensaries were forced to close, but they didn’t know what to prepare for. Shannon Venezia, who treats her epilepsy with marijuana, only bought enough medicine for two weeks. Gov. Baker updated his mandate earlier this week, however, and now recreational dispensaries will be closed until at least early May.

If this continues for even longer, “I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Venezia said. “Am I going to have to go to the black market, or am I going to have to try and get my card renewed and potentially expose myself to people who are sick?”

The panic is evident at medical dispensaries in Massachusetts (and the other states with medical marijuana programs), as well. Cannabis sales are at an all-time high, with huge lines full of patients fearful that they will have to self-quarantine and go without medicine. The ability to afford a long-term supply of cannabis is a financial privilege that many do not have, and those patients who can only afford small amounts at a time wonder what the available supply will look like in the months to come.

Gov. Baker is well aware that Massachusetts is the only state so far to deem recreational marijuana nonessential, which has garnered a fair amount of backlash while liquor stores are allowed to remain open. He said that since Massachusetts is one of the only states in New England where recreational marijuana is legal, he didn’t want people flocking across state lines to stock up, spreading disease along the way. What is it like to live in a state that’s only about 10,000 square miles? New Mexico is over 12 times that size, so I think we’re safe from any flock-and-stockers.

Dispensaries aren’t buying that as a valid reason to cut cannabis patients off from their medicine and are petitioning to have the governor allow them to reopen to the public. Many dispensaries have a recreational and medical side and say they likely won’t be able to keep their doors open if they can only sell to patients with medical cards. Let’s take this time to be grateful that New Mexico was incapable of passing recreational marijuana legislation once again in 2020, so we don’t have to deal with this quandary. Our residents without medical cards are stuck at home drinking their problems away as it is, and it looks like those in Massachusetts will have to do the same.

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