Cannabis and Coronavirus: Politics, Pandemic Continue to Plague Economy

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Image: Nicole Glass Photography / Shutterstock.com

Though infection rates are slowing, the United States has added an average of 1,000 COVID-19 deaths daily, for the last sixteen days. In regional hot spots, including California, Florida, and Texas, varying attempts at reopening some areas has resulted in walking back efforts to open schools and non-essential businesses.

Cannabis businesses in legal states continue to retain status as essential businesses, with many retail vendors turning to delivery and pick-up services, while implementing new social-distancing protocols like sneeze barriers and hand sanitizers.

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The U.S. has exceeded 165,000 deaths attributed to coronavirus, with more than five million infections.

A study published by Stanford University School of Medicine this week showed vaping increased the risk of COVID-19 infections in teens and young adults. The findings coincide with reported increased rates of infection in younger patients, much of which has been attributed to lack of wearing facemasks and attendance at “super-spreader” events, as this strange summer wears on.

“Young people may believe their age protects them from contracting the virus or that they will not experience symptoms of COVID-19, but the data show this isn’t true among those who vape,” the study’s lead author, postdoctoral scholar Shivani Mathur Gaiha, PhD., told the Stanford news blog.

The report did not mention cannabis vaping specifically, but recalls the warnings issued by the Centers for Disease Control during last summer’s EVALI (E-cigarette or Vaping Use-Associated Lung Injury) crisis. The condition caused lung damage and sometimes death for patients who had been affected by use of either cannabis or tobacco vape products, or both.

Study results found subjects “who had used both cigarettes and e-cigarettes in the previous 30 days were almost five times as likely to experience COVID-19 symptoms, such as coughing, fever, tiredness, and difficulty breathing as those who never smoked or vaped.”

The results were published in peer review Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study results come at the same time that some lawmakers are considering bans on flavored tobacco and vaping products, which appeal to young smokers. California lawmakers will look at proposed bill to do just that, before legislative deadlines at the end of the month.

Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) this week sent a letter to the head of the Food and Drug Administration requesting that the FDA temporarily remove vape products from the market during the pandemic, citing the Stanford study results.

Top lawmakers, including House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), continue to disagree over the second federal pandemic relief package with emergency unemployment funding from the first stimulus having ended at the end of July.

At a July 31 press conference, Pelosi was asked if provisions for cannabis banking are tied to the second stimulus package for approval. If the provisions were approved as part of the package, it would allow cannabis industry businesses to access merchant banking services with conventional financial institutions, like other legal businesses.

Cannabis law reform organization NORML pointed out that Pelosi, in response to the question, indicated that cannabis had been a “therapy that had proven successful” for some patients, in response to the reporter’s question, before moving on to other topics.

Republicans seized the moment to construe Pelosi’s comment as a blanket approval of medical cannabis, trolling her on social media for citing successful medical cannabis treatment.

According to NORML, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tweeted, “I hope she’s shared this breakthrough with Dr. Fauci.”

The organization pointed out such comments sought to discredit the political efforts of the cannabis industry and its advocates, in the face of continued legislative delays and partisan sniping.

“The cannabis provisions in question are explicit to amending federal law so that state-licensed marijuana businesses can freely engage in relationships with banks and other financial institutions. These provisions are far from controversial and possess bipartisan support,” NORML said.

“NORML has consistently advocated for federal economic stimulus packages to include relief, including banking relief, to cannabis state-licensed cannabis businesses—which currently employ over four times as many Americans as does the coal industry,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said.

“We are pleased that Speaker Pelosi understands that many of these workers are being impacted by this pandemic and is advocating for legislation to directly assist this growing and important industry, and we are disappointed that there are those who wish to launch ad hominem attacks at the Speaker rather than debate the merit of these proposed policy reforms,” he added.

The pandemic continues to force all industries to rethink procedures and processes, especially in the field of medicine where personal protection carries a special significance. Medical centers and hospitals in some areas have been overwhelmed by the influx of coronavirus patients; routine medical patients must now carefully schedule appointments or procedures to avoid undue exposure at medical facilities.

NuggMD announced the launch of its telemedicine platform in Ohio, which allows medical cannabis patients to obtain certification remotely. The state typically does not allow cannabis patient recommendations to be prescribed remotely; officials have loosened restrictions for the duration of the pandemic.

“COVID-19 is forcing the medical community to reconsider their long-standing prejudices against telemedicine,” said Kam Babazade, NuggMD co-founder and chief operating officer. “The misperception that patients can’t receive the same quality of care and follow up via telemedicine has forced immune-compromised patients to risk exposure to illness in order to comply with local state laws. After the pandemic is over, these patients will face the same unnecessary risks to their health. We hope the state will consider making this change to their policy permanent for the well-being of at-risk cannabis patients across the state.”

The company’s telemedicine services also are available in California, New York, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Missouri.

In Illinois, reports of record July sales seem to reflect the popularity of recreational cannabis as pandemic “safer at home” protocols continue for many consumers.

“The $61 million in recreational marijuana sales last month represented a 28 percent increase over June, when Illinois had $47.6 million in sales, according to the Illinois Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. Those figures do not include medical marijuana sales,” reported CBSLocal.com, Channel 2 in Chicago.

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