The corona virus crisis shows that medical marijuana is now both essential and mainstream. In Florida, as well as in state after state, the Governor and state health officials have deemed medical marijuana businesses essential operations that can remain open during the shelter at home mandate. What a contrast to a few years ago when Floridians faced arrest, prosecution and jail for marijuana purchase and possession. It seems that the approximately 328,000 Floridians and the multitude of store front dispensaries are now woven into the fabric of Florida life. Keeping the dispensaries open is acknowledgment that the State of Florida sees marijuana dispensaries as indispensable to cannabis patient’s health as pharmacies are to those who use pharmaceuticals. The State of Florida also enabled existing patients to recertify by telemedicine when Emergency Order 20-002 was enacted on March 16, 2020. The order was extended on April 15 to allow recertification by telemedicine until May 8, 2020.
With an uncertain future with the corona virus markedly affecting jobs and family, there is increased anxiety throughout society. Medical marijuana is a safe way of reducing that anxiety. Cannabis patients are also worried about the future supplies of marijuana and they are stocking up. While cannabis is certainly not toilet paper and inventory should be steady, sales are skyrocketing in Florida. For example, sales during the week of March 20, 2020 were up 40% over the prior week. According to the Florida Department of Public Health, 2274 pounds of marijuana were sold between March 13 and March 19th, just as schools and stores were shutting down statewide and nationwide. That was a record high since the medical marijuana program begin in 2017.
Local dispensaries are responding to the corona virus pandemic by providing curbside service, free delivery and limiting the number of patients and observing social distancing in stores that still have their lobbies open. Some dispensaries are using a queuing app to call patients when it is their turn. In sum, dispensaries are doing all they can to keep patients and dispensary workers safe in these unsafe times.
-Dr. David Balter