Cannabis Policy and Law Maker Friends,
I’m penning this letter in an effort to provide additional perspective on the importance of cannabis being deemed “essential” for both recreational and medical dispensaries during California’s shelter in place order, and beyond.
I hope this perspective will be helpful not just to California lawmakers, but policy makers throughout the US and Canada.
My name is Jocelyn Sheltraw and I have been working in the cannabis industry for almost 2 years. I work for a cannabis data and analytics company called Headset, and through my role, I work closely with our city and state officials and associations.
In my experience working with operators throughout the supply chain, as well as regularly attending City Council meetings throughout California, I have summarized the impacts that should be considered when thinking about why recreational cannabis shops should be deemed “essential” and allowed to stay open and operational.
This is a timely and pressing matter for the following reasons:
1) Medicinal Impacts
Patients using cannabis to treat serious illnesses like cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimers, Crohn’s disease, etc, do not typically have a medical card. With the passing of Prop 64, a medical card was essentially deemed unnecessary. In fact, according to officials in Santa Clara County, 95% of people do not hold medical cards.
This will have an impact on our most vulnerable populations including the elderly and the low income. Both of these populations may have limited access to the internet, which would prevent online ordering, and equally as important, these patients may need consultation with dispensary staff to receive proper medical guidance.
2) Recreational Impacts
Many people use cannabis for health and wellness purposes, seeking spiritual and emotional relief during this time of social isolation. Much like alcohol, people may use cannabis for stress management. The psychological impacts of social isolation are real, and bound to have a lasting effect in ways we are yet aware of. I have heard concerns from many city officials surrounding the impacts of social unrest or uprising.
3) Social Justice Impacts
Allowing cannabis business to stay open and serve the public, just as other health care businesses, reiterates that cannabis is essential, and provides another data point to help correct past social injustices due to the War on Drugs.
According to the Last Prisoner Project: “Of the 2.3 million incarcerated people in the U.S., roughly 165,000 are over the age of 55. Compared to the general population, people in jail and prison are more likely to have pre-existing health conditions. These groups of people are most at risk of falling ill or dying from the coronavirus, or COVID-19.”
Allowing recreational cannabis businesses to stay open will reiterate to the public that cannabis is “essential” and will help push progress in getting the 40k US prisoners released for serving time for this now “essential” good.
4) Financial Impacts
As of today (April 2, 2020), more than 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the last week. Cannabis is one of the fastest growing economies in the US, contributing higher taxes than most other industries.
According to Vangst, “total cannabis job opportunities increased 79% from 2018 to 2019, and an estimated 211,000 full-time employees will make up the legal cannabis industry in 2019. Expected growth estimates in the report predict that 414,000 new jobs will be created in the US in 2021.”
Allowing recreational dispensaries to stay operational, contributes to our economic growth in a time that is more necessary than ever.
5) Illicit Market Impacts
California has a thriving illicit market. It is anticipated 75% of California operates illegally. By not allowing recreational dispensaries to stay open this will likely push those into purchasing from illicit shops, and even growing the demand and businesses of illicit producers. California has spent significant people and financial resources to ease the strain of the illicit market, and this could undo years of work.
Lastly, on a personal level, I am a 10 year recreational cannabis enthusiast. I do not use cannabis for any medicinal reason, but rather to come into greater levels of self awareness and consciousness.
Being actively involved in the industry, it is my experience that I have seen more positive than negative come from one’s use with cannabis. I believe cannabis presents an opportunity for a shift in consciousness on an individual level which contributes to the good of the collective.
On April 1st San Jose/Santa Clara County announced a reversal in policy to only allow medical patients to walk into a dispensary. This could have impacts throughout the State. Below is the memo that was sent to Santa Clara and San Jose City Officials in hopes of a reversal. It may be referenced if you are working with other city officials.
I am sharing the below literature in the spirit of transparency and open collaboration. This incredible work was guided by many cannabis activists, but much appreciation is due to James Anthony of Anthony Law Group, among folks from our associations like CCIA.
Dear Santa Clara County and City of San Jose Officials (elected and senior staff):
Please allow all cannabis businesses to continue serving the health and wellness of all Californians—provided that they strictly observe all social distancing and sanitization requirements. Please reverse your recent policy closing dispensaries for all of your constituents except the rare remaining medical cannabis patients with doctor’s recommendations.
People (like me) who obtain cannabis for health and wellness, do it legally through our progressive state’s highly regulated and safety-tested access system. We do not want to be forced to the underground market.
We all agree—that is, all of us, including you in all of your County and City government offices, and every other state and local government office—that medical cannabis businesses are “Healthcare Operations…construed broadly…[and] broadly defined” as mandated by your Health Officer’s recent Shelter-In-Place (SIP) Order. 3/31/20 SCC SIP Order Paragraph 13(b).* Healthcare operations, including all cannabis businesses—with strict social distancing and sanitization requirements—are “Essential Business” under the order, Paragraph 13(f)(i),** and therefore “are strongly encouraged to remain open.” (Paragraph 5).***
Thus the only question that might be confusing the County and City is whether adult use cannabis is different from medical cannabis under the law. The answer is, “Not anymore.” Before 2016 all cannabis was illegal in California; and only medical cannabis was legal. But since then, both of them are legal for adults. Proposition 64 changed cannabis from a “prescription” medicine requiring a doctor’s written recommendation to an “over-the-counter” medicine requiring only proof of age. Adults who need medical cannabis now just obtain it with identification at any licensed cannabis dispensary. The old state license types of “medical” and “adult use” are now meaningless and irrelevant. Doctor’s recommendations are no longer required for medical cannabis for health and wellness.
Your Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office had this right on Monday night, March 30, when they wrote, to the San Jose Police Department, the following which is in alignment with state law, the SIP Order, and all other local jurisdictions’ Orders as well:
There should not be a distinction between “medical” and “recreational” marijuana purchases for these purposes and the available method of purchase (delivery, curbside pickup whatever). Post Prop 64 recreational purchasers should be treated the same as medical users for purposes of method of purchase. Accordingly, recreational users should be able to avail themselves of the same mechanisms for purchase as medical users. This is especially true given that many former “medical” patients are “recreational” purchasers now because the hassle of getting the proper state paperwork for medical outweighs the benefit of that paperwork (lower tax). They still could be ingesting it for medical use.
Due to well intentioned, but misguided confusion, SJPD now insists that only “medical” cannabis can be sold inside the dispensary—that is, only to a patient with a doctor’s recommendation, of which there are almost none since that requirement was removed by the state under Prop 64. SJPD also says “Non-medical” cannabis can be sold only by delivery—that is, to the 95%+ of adult cannabis customers who use it for health and wellness without a doctor’s recommendation. No provision is made for our most vulnerable medical populations—the elderly, the low income, those with limited or no internet access—who may need to consult with dispensary staff about their medicine and buy their cannabis in-store.
Dispensaries are already strongly encouraging delivery and pre-ordered curbside pickup, and limiting in-store customer access to the number of cashiers available. They are practicing strict social distancing and sanitization practices—far in excess of other healthcare operations like drugstores that are full of alcohol, tobacco, and sugar. This unequal treatment of cannabis medical health and wellness consumers is unfair, illegal, and dangerous to public health and safety as it will cause a resurgence of underground cannabis that is unregulated and untested.
Your well-intended policy to support medical cannabis access by denigrating adult use (“recreational”) cannabis access is misguided, illegal, barred by your own Health Officer’s Shelter-In-Place Order, and is itself a threat to public health and safety. Further, we fear it will cause a resurgence of racial profiling targeting people of color, low income folks, and immigrants, in a renewed war on drugs.
Please revise your policy to allow all cannabis businesses to continue serving the health and wellness of all Californians—provided that they strictly observe all social distancing and sanitization requirements.
*Paragraph 13(b): For the purposes of this Order, individuals may leave their residence to work for, volunteer at, or obtain services at “Healthcare Operations,” including, without limitation, hospitals, clinics, COVID-19 testing locations, dentists, pharmacies, blood banks and blood drives, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, other healthcare facilities, healthcare suppliers, home healthcare services providers, mental health providers, or any related and/or ancillary healthcare services. “Healthcare Operations” also includes veterinary care and all healthcare services provided to animals. This exemption for Healthcare Operations shall be construed broadly to avoid any interference with the delivery of healthcare, broadly defined. “Healthcare Operations” excludes fitness and exercise gyms and similar facilities. (Emphases added.)
**Paragraph 13(f)(i): For the purposes of this Order, “Essential Businesses” are:
(i) Healthcare Operations and businesses that operate, maintain, or repair Essential Infrastructure; (Emphases added.)
***Paragraph 5: All businesses with a facility in the County, except Essential Businesses, as defined in Section 13.f, are required to cease all activities at facilities located within the County except Minimum Basic Operations, as defined in Section 13.g. For clarity, all businesses may continue operations consisting exclusively of owners, employees, volunteers, or contractors performing activities at their own residences (i.e., working from home). All Essential Businesses are strongly encouraged to remain open. But Essential Businesses are directed to maximize the number of employees who work from home. Essential Businesses may only assign those employees who cannot perform their job duties from home to work outside the home. All Essential Businesses shall prepare, post, and implement a Social Distancing Protocol at each of their facilities at which they are maintaining operations, as specified in Section 13.h. Businesses that include an Essential Business component at their facilities alongside non-essential components must, to the extent feasible, scale down their operations to the Essential Business component only; provided, however, that mixed retail businesses that are otherwise allowed to operate under this Order may continue to stock and sell non-essential products. Essential Businesses must follow industry-specific guidance issued by the Health Officer related to COVID-19. (Emphases added.)
(This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.)