As Bay Area officials on Tuesday scrambled to interpret the shelter-in-place order enacted across the region, cannabis dispensaries and licensed cannabis companies in all seven counties appeared to be operating in a state of limbo.
The order, released Monday afternoon, provided a list of essential services that could remain open, including grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and medical facilities. But it left room for interpretation when it comes to certain businesses, including the cannabis industry — a sector that straddles the medical and recreational service markets, and generates hundreds of millions of dollars in state tax revenue each year.
And while cannabis products may not seem like an essential item for some, many residents rely on medical marijuana for treatment and pain relief.
In San Jose, dispensaries continued to serve customers, with residents coming out of mandated isolation to form long lines around stores selling cannabis products. San Jose spokesperson Rosario Neaves said that the city is considering dispensaries to be essential providers of healthcare needs and therefore exempt from the latest order, so long as the businesses take measures to ensure appropriate social distancing.
“In our case in the city, we’re considering medical cannabis a healthcare operation, as long as they comply with the social distancing requirements,” Neaves said.
But not every agency across the region — or even within the same counties — appeared to be interpreting the language of the new order in the same way.
Although San Jose dispensaries were serving both recreational and medical customers on Tuesday, Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said in a statement that dispensaries could only stay open as essential businesses “for medical purposes, not recreational.”
Williams could not be reached to further elaborate on the county’s stance.
Officials in Santa Cruz County announced that they allowing cannabis dispensaries to continue operating via delivery or pickup, but that customers will be prohibited from gathering in a store, according to the county’s website.
In San Francisco, however, cannabis companies were told they would need to temporarily shut down their businesses Tuesday morning. Contra Costa and Alameda counties did not immediately respond to comment.
Eaze, a San Francisco-based cannabis delivery service, said on Twitter Tuesday morning that it would comply with San Francisco’s order and shut down delivery within the city but still continue to service customers in the surrounding Bay Area.
Outside San Jose dispensary Haze, resident Robert Doering was among ten or so people waiting for his turn inside.
Doering, a service technician for a window company, said he needed to pick up CBD for an arthritic knee that he injured while working a few years ago.
“Some people just use it to get high,” he said. “But for other people, it’s a medical use for pain.”
Noting the line to get inside Haze Tuesday morning, Doering remarked: “It’s way longer at the grocery store. Now those lines are really, really long.”
San Jose dispensaries Caliva and CA Collective and Airline Supply Company in Santa Clara were all taking in customers Tuesday as well.
At Caliva, more than 20 people — some donning face masks and gloves — were lined up with about two to three feet of space between one another, though the county’s social distancing requirement calls for six feet.
As the day went on, an employee at Caliva routinely came outside to call on customers to spread out. “It’s critical for us to remain open,” he said. Another employee, who declined to be named, raised concerns about the company’s decision to allow in-store sales to continue during the pandemic.”This choice is putting at risk the retail employees, customers and by proxy our societies most vulnerable citizens,” the employee said.
With a lack of clarity from officials, some Bay Area dispensaries were making significant changes to their businesses on their own to try and follow the new requirements while also maintaining some of their operations.
At Delta Dispensary in Antioch, the business said it received permission from the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control to continue serving customers strictly on a drive-thru basis.
On Tuesday afternoon, cars were lined up around the parking lot with people waiting to place orders and pick up supplies. The dispensary’s storefront was closed and customers were asked to remain in their cars as employees checked their identification cards, fetched their requested items and took their payment.
“It adds a little bit of difficulty and frustration on the consumer side, as well as the business side, but at the end of the day, this is the safest possible way for people to continue safe access in my opinion,” said Anthony Rangel, compliance officer at the dispensary.