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360: Should dispensaries be considered essential during stay-at-home order?

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Posted at 7:02 AM, Mar 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-27 11:04:03-04

Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com. See more 360 stories here.

DENVER — As Colorado leaders continue to try to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus through stay-at-home orders and the closure of local businesses, dispensaries are one of the few places Coloradans can still go.

Since recreational use of marijuana became legal in Colorado in 2014, the state has generated more than $1 billion in revenue from legal marijuana sales.

While many municipalities, like Denver, have chosen to allow dispensaries to continue operating with social distancing restrictions, some are questioning if dispensaries should be considered essential or not.

Dispensaries respond to coronavirus concerns

Mike Lempert is the logistics director for Seed and Smith, a marijuana business with dispensaries across the Denver metro area.

“Since the outbreak, we have started instituting things like using hospital grade air purifiers and everything is being subject to ozone generation overnight,” he said.

Lempert said to increase social distancing, his business was utilizing a virtual queue.

Now, they’re opting for curbside delivery, thanks to guidance from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

But Lempert said their dispensaries will still allow some patients inside on a case-by-case basis.

This is a good balance of both," he said. "I think understanding that the medicinal benefits from cannabis is a real thing and there are patients again that rely on this."

But before curbside delivery was an option, Steve Ackerman, the owner of Organic Alternatives dispensary located in Fort Collins, decided to close.

“We decided that it was in the best interest of our company and our community to shut down and reassess and try to figure out if we could open up safely,” he said.

But with the state now allowing curbside delivery, Ackerman said he wants to reopen and hire back some staff he previously let go.

“The only people that will be in our stores will be our staff who will be fulfilling orders and we will not be handling cash and will not be handling people’s credit cards. Everything will be done using pre-order online,” he said.

Doctor says dispensaries are as essential as pharmacies.

Dr. David Gordon, MD, a consultant for the free marijuana help line “Leaf411” said whether classified as medical or recreational, dispensaries are as essential as pharmacies.

“Medical patients should definitely be a priority but there are so many medical patients who are still purchasing on the recreational side just because product access and availability is often higher on the recreational side,” said Gordon.

At least one hurdle for becoming a medical patient has been removed.

Polis is allowing doctors to issue medical marijuana cards remotely, no office visit required.

But Gordon said now more than ever, new patients should avoid self-medicating.

“When people are in quarantine, when they're already having anxiety or depression for reasons that are obviously paramount right now, overuse of a whole variety of substances can be problematic,” said Gordon.

Some dispensary employees worry about their health

But there are still some who think dispensaries should be treated just like other businesses that were forced to close.

Denver7 received the following message from a dispensary employee who would like to remain anonymous due to the nature of her job and because she said she fears for her safety:

“We have implemented new policies to try and keep us all safe. But at what point do we stop listening to our employer and listen to the CDC and the government?...My house holds my 71-year-old grandmother at home on oxygen. If I don't show symptoms who's to say I'm not a carrier? Who's to say I won't kill her by working trying to keep a roof over our heads? I know we shouldn't panic. I know we provide medicine for a lot of people. I am grateful to be working. But I'd just like to see some if any light shed on our industry that takes up a huge part of Colorado.”

For some patients, dispensaries are essential

“It isn’t just a band-aid solution for many of us,” said medical marijuana patient Autumn Brooks.

Brooks said she and her 11-year-old son have tried many different pharmaceutical drugs to address their health problems, and medical marijuana works best for them.

“We do need the medicine and we have it documented that we need it,” she said.

Brooks said as local municipalities make their own dispensary decisions, she hopes local leaders keep patients like her and her son in mind.