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Drive-Thru Dispensaries: Cannabis Access In The Age Of COVID

by Taylor Engle

The concept of the drive-thru dispensary came onto the cannabis scene a few years ago in places like Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, but these past few months of pandemic living have launched more socially distant options for purchasing cannabis nationwide. 

In order to remain profitable, many businesses have been forced to get creative as COVID-19 ensures most of us stay at home for the unforeseeable future. As a result, dispensaries in legal states throughout the nation have begun offering drive-thru options to limit contact and exposure. 

“Once COVID hit and lockdown happened, we shut our lobby down completely for a month and a half and only offered drive-thru services. COVID has definitely increased drive-thru popularity, but our main purpose has always been to offer convenience for those who are elderly, disabled, or want discretion when it comes to purchasing cannabis,” said Michael Miller, Manager of The Honeypot Shop in Norman, Oklahoma in an interview with Green Flower.

While California has been at the forefront of cannabis legalization, the first drive-thru didn’t appear until late 2019. However, a few more have opened since the start of 2020, including the Cannabis Cafe in West Hollywood, Leave it to Nature in Shasta Lake, and Harborside Cannabis Drive-Thru in Desert Hot Springs. 

The Cannabis Cafe was groundbreaking enough when it opened in October 2019 as a food spot that also sold cannabis, but was quickly forced to shut down amidst the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020. 

Out of necessity, the cafe became the first food and cannabis drive-thru in the state. “The city gave us temporary permission to operate as a medical and recreational dispensary until the emergency order ends,” co-founder Courtney Zalewski told the LA Times. “This allows us to sell cannabis alongside our full food menu in an In-N-Out drive-thru-like system.”

Maryland has also seen great strides in cannabis availability since the start of the pandemic. While recreational use is still illegal, the state’s medical dispensaries are beginning to transfer over to drive-thrus. 

Mana Supply Co. in Edgewater was the first dispensary to make the transition — they already had the drive-thru window they didn’t know they’d need. While the owners saw the usefulness and accessibility behind a drive-thru option, it wasn’t legal to do so until COVID-19. 

Allegany Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Cumberland is close behind — they are currently getting things ready in order to service customers via window once it’s approved from a safety perspective.

Pennsylvania, another medical state, has taken things a step further. Once Governor Tom Wolf declared cannabis “essential business” at the start of the pandemic, temporary changes were needed to cater to patients. 

The state has softened the process for obtaining a medical license — it can now be done via phone or video conference rather than in person. Additionally, many dispensaries have implemented online ordering, a debit card system, and curbside pickup. They’ve also begun to allow home deliveries, and the Apothecarium dispensary in Plymouth Meeting has opened the state’s first drive-thru. 

Dispensaries in Oklahoma are now offering drive-thru service for their medical patients as well. Native Harvest and the Honeypot Shop, both in Norman, have seen success from the safe and health-conscious purchasing options. 

“Most drive-thrus that you see are going to be a sliding glass window, so you still have that person-to-person interaction,” Miller said in an interview with the Express-Star. “Ours is actually a bulletproof glass with a sliding drawer like a bank, which has been really big for us because of COVID-19.”

Progress has also been made in Utah, where cannabis is medically legal. A pharmacy (one of the state’s three) in Ogden opened its first cannabis drive-thru to fill prescriptions. 

The most recent state to hop on the drive-thru bandwagon is Michigan. Compassionate Care by Design in Kalamazoo is officially open for drive-thru business, the first in Southwest Michigan. The purpose is to provide customers with safety, security, and convenience during these confusing times. 

COVID-19 has certainly forced a lot of change in the way people do business, which is of course an opportunity waiting to be seized. The increase in drive-thru availability suggests there may be room for a more streamlined process when it comes to purchasing cannabis from now on. 

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