essential services cannabis
essential services cannabis

Why Cannabis is Deemed an Essential Service During COVID-19

How did a Federally illegal plant become essential during the pandemic?

Posted by:
The Undercover Stoner on Tuesday Jul 21, 2020

Why Cannabis is Deemed an Essential Service During COVID-19

essential services marijuana

Millions of retail businesses and event facilities have been forced to shut their doors amid the COVID-19 outbreak, but a majority of legal cannabis enterprises remain open. This is largely thanks to state governments that have deemed such businesses as essential—much like grocery stores, professional services, and medical facilities.  


Thirty-three states have some form of legalized cannabis, and most have retained their licenses during the pandemic. Shops are still required to adhere to all social distancing guidelines set forth by the CDC, and many have had to pursue alternative distribution methods. 


Why Are Cannabis Businesses Deemed Essential? 

When California Governor Gavin Newsom declared cannabis dispensaries essential in his state, his senior cannabis advisor Nicole Elliott told reporters that “access to legal, regulated, and safe cannabis is essential, especially for California residents who rely on cannabis as their medicine.”


Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak echoed a similar sentiment during a March press conference when asked why marijuana was considered essential. His response was that Nevada voters had voted in favor of legalization, many for medical reasons. As such, cannabis will remain essential. 


Some executive orders have highlighted the importance of continuing legal access to medicinal cannabis in particular. For example, Maryland's order specifically protects growers, processors, and dispensaries responsible for the creation and distribution of medical marijuana. New Jersey enacted a similar order, as have other states. 


Massachusetts is the only state to place significant new restrictions on cannabis. Though the state still has delivery and pickup options for medical marijuana patients, all recreational sales have been suspended until further notice. The reason may have to do with traffic. Governor Charlie Baker has said that he opted to close adult-use marijuana businesses because they draw excess traffic from neighboring states. Critics argue that suspending recreational sales hurts patients who rely on cannabis but who don’t have the means to procure a medical marijuana card. 


Canada is also treating cannabis as an essential service in most provinces. There are exceptions, however, In Ontario, all 52 operating cannabis retail stores were forced to close after failing to be included in the provincial government’s updated list of essential services. This move has been met with some controversy, as liquor stores remain on the province’s list of essential services. 


How the Cannabis Industry Has Been Affected by COVID-19

Perhaps one of the surprising—or not so surprising—outcomes of the pandemic is that legal cannabis sales are up in most places. The average store revenue has increased by 52% to 130% over this time last year, according to data from Jane Technologies, a leading cannabis ecommerce platform.


This trend isn’t just affecting distributors and retailers. It also means more work for ancillary service providers like cannabis attorneys, payment processors, and marketing professionals. 


“We’ve seen a steady increase in interest from cannabis brands,” says Igor Avidon, founder of Avidon Marketing Group, a Los Angeles digital marketing agency that specializes in cannabis SEO. “Since cannabis has been deemed essential during this pandemic, brands are competing for the organic search presence even harder now.” 

Other brands are seeing similar trends as marijuana remains a hot commodity. 


How Cannabis Businesses are Changing Course 

Although most cannabis operations are still considered essential, that doesn’t mean that it’s business as usual. Dispensaries in California and other states have introduced new social distancing protocols and enhanced sanitation efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. 


Some stores are limiting their hours, capping the number of people allowed inside, and requiring the use of a face mask. Some businesses, like the Pottery Cannabis Dispensary in Los Angeles, have introduced senior-only hours to cater more effectively to the most vulnerable individuals. 


Many states have also introduced curbside pickup and delivery as a safer option for patients and customers. For years, states have struggled to make their products available outside the store. In light of COVID-19, several states have issued emergency declarations (some temporary) to allow home delivery. 


The following states are among those that currently have some sort of delivery option in place: 












New Mexico*

New Jersey*

New York*


North Dakota*



Washington D.C.*


*States marked with an asterisk allow delivery for medical patients only. 


Objections to Cannabis as an Essential Business

Not everyone is on board with treating cannabis sales as an essential service. Critics have argued, among other things, that marijuana smoke affects the respiratory system, just like COVID-19, and so it’s therefore reckless to prioritize cannabis during the pandemic. But not all marijuana products are smokable. Many consumers favor edibles, tinctures, vape oils, and even capsules. 


Despite the criticisms, more and more states continue to create a pathway for cannabis distribution during the pandemic. Alaska, for example, just approved its own measure for delivery and curbside pickup, which is currently awaiting the governor’s signature. 


What Customers Need to Know About COVID-19 & Cannabis

For anyone who wants to purchase cannabis while under quarantine: 

Research your local laws to see if sales are still available and how to purchase. 

Call your local dispensary or visit their website to place an order for delivery if it’s available. Note that the delivery laws vary from state to state and, in some cases, jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In Colorado, for example, delivery is only available in select counties. 

If delivery is unavailable, try to opt for curbside pickup. 

Only step into a dispensary if it’s your sole option. Be sure to wear a face mask and keep a 6-foot distance from other customers per CDC guidelines. Wash your hands as soon as you get home. 


The COVID-19 pandemic has required us all to make a number of sacrifices, but if you love your cannabis, there’s never been a more convenient time to be a consumer. 








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