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Medical Marijuana Dispensaries are Deemed “Essential” During COVID-19 Outbreak

March 19, 2020


On Monday, March 16, 2020, Governor Wolf took the unprecedented step of ordering “nonessential” Pennsylvania businesses to shut down for at least 14 days to help curb the spread of COVID-19.  Essential businesses, like grocery stores, pharmacies, and medical facilities, are permitted to remain open, along with other important public services such as trash collection.

Notably, on March 18, 2020, the Office of Medical Marijuana of the Pennsylvania Department of Health clarified that medical marijuana companies – including Grower/Processor and Dispensary permittees – are indeed essential businesses that may remain open.  This clarification further cements the Commonwealth’s commitment to and recognition that medical marijuana is an important prescription to Pennsylvania citizens, and that it should and will be treated the same as its more main-stream counterparts in the pharmaceutical world.

The Office further reminded medical marijuana businesses that “[i]n order to ensure that patients continue to receive safe medical marijuana products and to prevent diversion of those products, it is imperative that all permittees continue to comply with statutory and regulatory obligations.”  Medical marijuana businesses should also be taking heightened sanitary precautions that have been issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, such as sanitizing all stores more frequently, educating employees on proper hand-washing, and directing employees who are sick or those exposed to COVID-19 to stay home from work.

Pennsylvania is not alone in this position.  Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington and New York, along with several counties in the San Francisco Bay region, likewise have issued clarification this week that medical marijuana dispensaries are essential businesses and have issued bulletins relaxing regulations regarding delivery and in-store transactions in order to limit contact between patients and vendors.  For example, in New York, the state’s dispensaries will be allowed to expand their delivery service without prior government approval and to conduct sales through the shop’s door, provided they comply with all regulations and laws, such as recording the transaction on camera and validating patients’ identification.

Medical marijuana dispensaries in Pennsylvania also have reported that they are dealing with logistical challenges, such as increasing delivery services to medical marijuana patients who are unable to visit dispensaries in person, especially terminally ill and immunocompromised individuals, who cannot visit stores due to self-quarantines or the state and federal government’s directives on social distancing.  As the weeks and months go on, this may lead to an increase in caregiver licenses.  In Pennsylvania, a caregiver can pick up and deliver medical marijuana for up to five patients. Caregivers must be at least 21 years old, register with the Department of Health, and complete a criminal background check.

The Pennsylvania Office of Medical Marijuana remains operational and is available as a resource for businesses during this period of uncertainty.  Montgomery McCracken’s Cannabis Law attorneys are also available to assist licensed medical marijuana businesses navigate questions about doing business in the current climate. Visit the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center for more information and updates on this constantly evolving situation.