US Cannabis Sales Show No Signs Of Slowing Since The Outbreak of COVID-19, But Where Does That Leave Cannabis Workers?

COVID-19 shook the business world this spring, and the cannabis industry has not been exempt from the repercussions.

Now widely considered to be an essential business, pot is flying off of the shelves, which, among other things, shows that customers have been able to adapt right alongside the industry, despite a pandemic. Dispensaries with in-store availability are helping those without access to technology stay safe while waiting to purchase their weed by demarcating 6ft-distances in the line area and giving verbal reminders; for ease and safety reasons, however, patrons are often encouraged to pre-order products online. Later, the transaction can be completed from the safety of the customer’s vehicle – otherwise referred to as a curbside-pickup. Delivery is another option for these online orderers, and it has become a boon to folks who cannot or will not leave their homes due to health reasons. Delivery drivers face the danger of contracting the virus daily, but even in their roles as essential workers, critics have noted that they should be provided hazard pay for their valiant efforts.

In an attempt to mitigate the risk bravely confronted by their employees, companies have been reportedly offering bonuses and wage enhancements themselves of up to $2 more an hour. In Washington State, working parents rejoiced when a ban was lifted this month that stated children were not allowed within processing plants. Though a controversial rule-reversal for some, this temporary allowance was granted to assist parents facing the unforeseen complication of constant child care to keep their jobs – both for the employee’s sake, and the farm’s. 

Farmers experiencing staff shortages in California’s Humboldt County are now being called on by public health officials to employ local workers and trimmers, rather than seeking outside assistance. Officer Teresa Frankovich took to social media, saying in a video posted on 4/20:

“I’d like to have farmers prioritize hiring people from within the area so we minimize the introduction of travelers and recognize that all people coming into the area need to be quarantined for 14 days prior to mixing with the general workforce.” 

The vulnerable farming sector of the cannabis industry was dealt another blow recently when growers were notified that, as marijuana is still considered a federally illegal substance, the government would not be including them in the relief packages given out to help small businesses cope with money lost due to COVID-19.

Farmers in Miami, Florida are keeping their grows operational and protected by switching from THC-rich cannabis to one of its highly beneficial derivatives, hemp. With a little assistance from the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp has been legalized in the state of Florida and is being regulated at the legal level.

The National Cannabis Industry Association is working hard to help cannabis grows reach that same level of protection. In the online piece, COVID-19 Response and Resources, highlights the actions it is taking to relieve as much of the burden posed by the coronavirus as it can. The NCIA’s Government Relations and Policy teams have vigorously corresponded with congressional leadership in regard to cannabis companies’ inclusion into the Small Business Administration’s relief programs.

On April 22, legislation was officially introduced by Oregon’s Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, called the “Emergency Cannabis Small Business Health and Safety Act”. This bill would, if enacted, make it possible for cannabis companies to qualify for federal COVID-19 relief in the same ways it is helping hemp growers: by providing eligibility for paycheck protection, economic injury disaster loans and economic injury disaster loan (EIDL) emergency grants. 

 Members of Congress said in an April 17 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy:

“Cannabis businesses are essential to many communities around the country. We cannot be selective about which small businesses receive relief as the COVID-19 pandemic cripples our economy… This is yet another example of the federal government falling behind the states on cannabis. While we continue our fight to reform discriminatory, harmful, and out-of-touch cannabis policies, the fight for the state-legal cannabis industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of Americans, continues.”