The majority of Americans believe medical marijuana dispensaries should be considered “essential businesses” during the coronavirus pandemic, a recent YouGov poll found. Eight of the 11 states that have legalized adult-use marijuana have allowed recreational cannabis sales to continue, permitting stores to follow strict social distancing protocol. In Maine, legal recreational marijuana sales haven’t started yet while Vermont has yet to form regulation around adult-use marijuana operations.
That leaves Massachusetts as the only U.S. state to halt legal recreational marijuana sales in the country. When Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker shut down all “non-essential” businesses on Mar. 23, he included adult-use cannabis stores among the group. While some residents rushed to stockpile legal goods, others admitted they will turn to the black market. Baker later said restarting recreational cannabis sales was a “non-starter” until May 4.
In response, Massachusetts applications for medical marijuana cards have surged. Regulators see around 500 registrations in a usual 10-day period. In the weeks following the shutdown, though, as of early in April, more than 1,300 people had filed paperwork to receive medical marijuana cards.
Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) has lifted some restrictions around becoming a medical marijuana patient. In-person doctor visits are no longer required and certified physicians can approve medicine over the phone. Some of the benefits medical marijuana patients have over recreational consumers include tax-free purchases, home delivery and higher THC concentrations in edibles.
FILE: Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker speaks during the National Clean Energy Summit 9.0 on Oct. 13, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nev. / Photo: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for National Clean Energy Summit / Photo: Isaac Brekken/Getty Images for National Clean Energy Summit
According to CCC chairman Steven Hoffman, this spike in registrations came as no surprise.
“There’s always been a belief that people were — some people, and I don’t know the percentages — but some people were using the adult-use market to satisfy their medical needs,” Hoffman told reporters. “And I think since the adult-use market is temporarily shut down, I think those people are applying for medical licences.
The thought is that Baker refuses to re-open recreational cannabis stores because he believes it will attract out-of-state visitors into the state, thereby furthering the spread of the novel coronavirus. The CCC has discussed recreational manufacturers selling products through medical retailers, both to keep the adult-use market afloat, but also to meet this new demand.
“We do have to be mindful of [the] supply chain,” CCC executive director Shawn Collins said. “And so looking at manufacturing, cultivation and allowing for some wholesale operations there could be a consideration — which really would leave the retail aspect of the essential services as the remaining elements of the shut down.”