Cannabis and Coronavirus: The New Normal-ish

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Staff members from Top Hat Cannabis presented the Southeast Alaska Food Bank with a $10,000 donation. (Photo courtesy THCAlaska.com)

Uncertainty created by economic backlash from the coronavirus pandemic has global markets shaken, even as U.S. stock markets have rallied to pre-pandemic levels, defying what pundits have declared a worldwide recession.

Civil rights protests have continued for two weeks, occupying urban areas that are in the midst of reopening stages dictated by regional pandemic protocols, especially in the U.S. Looting and violence early in the protests gave way to peaceful demonstrations against police brutality and in support of African American civil rights, in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd.

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Public health officials have cautioned against possible spikes in COVID-19 rates and second waves, due to increased public gatherings including the protests, casino crowds in newly reopened city of Las Vegas, and clusters of consumers who seemed happy to return to restaurants and retail venues.

In California, the state’s projected 2020-2021 budget predicted a downturn for the post-pandemic legal cannabis industry, citing banking issues, competition from illegal vendors, and consumers hard hit by economic instability.

“While similar products like alcohol and tobacco tend to be recession-resistant, the forecast assumes that cannabis businesses will be more negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cannabis businesses have less access to banking services that could provide liquidity, have a younger consumer base likely to be disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 recession, and still must contend with competition from the black market,” the budget language read.

The state offered some relief in the form of extensions on cannabis business license renewals. “Businesses with state commercial cannabis licenses expiring between now and the end of June 30, 2020, may request 60-day deferrals of their license fee payments,” the California Bureau of Cannabis Control website stated. “The license fee deferrals are intended to provide immediate financial assistance to state cannabis licensees impacted by COVID-19.”

Any questions regarding license fee deferrals may be submitted to [email protected].           

San Jose, California-based Airfield Supply Company, like other retail cannabis vendors, adjusted to the “new normal” in sales protocols by introducing contact-less sales in its store. California’s largest single-site dispensary teamed with point of sale (POS) technology platform Treez, to add the Treez Pay (powered by Stronghold) contact-less purchase option. The payment solution allows customers to order and pay via cellphone, which minimizes contact with cash and makes for speedier transactions.

“We have been looking for a solution that offers our customers more—and safer—payment options and the combination of security and convenience is exactly what we desired,” Airfield Supply Co. founder and Chief Executive Officer Marc Matulic said in a press release.

“With Treez Pay, encrypted and confidential customer banking details are not accessible by the dispensary or by Treez Pay as the system directly links to the customer’s personal bank account. This protects transactions from malicious attacks and is much safer than peer-to-peer options like Venmo or other peer-to-business options,” Matulic added.

Distributor Nabis, based in Oakland, California, announced its new Nabis Tracker technology, which is available to retail partners free-of-charge. Nabis Tracker allows retailers to confirm deliveries, track orders, communicate with drivers in real time, and manage invoices. It’s hoped that streamlining distribution processes will increase safety for employees and customers.

The company also stated its commitment to safety during the pandemic, as well as increased support for cannabis social equity initiatives and advocacy group Black Lives Matter.

“As an operator in an industry built on the backs of minority groups, we must acknowledge the atrocities that people of color continue to endure. Violence and prejudice have no place here, and Nabis is committed to supporting efforts to build a foundation of equality in the cannabis industry,” said Nabis founder and Chief Executive Officer Vince Ning.

In Canada, cannabis pharmaceutical company FSD Pharma announced it had received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to submit an investigational new drug (IND) application for FSD-201 formulation, which potentially could be used to treat COVID-19.

Data collected about the virus indicate seriously ill coronavirus patients suffer from a severe inflammatory response, which can lead to cytokine storm and eventual death in some cases. FSD-201’s anti-inflammatory properties, the company said, might help treat inflammation that results in lung injury.

“FDA’s permission to design a proof-of-concept study in COVID-19 patients evaluating clinical doses of FSD-201 is a paradigm shift for FSD Pharma and is the result of outstanding work conducted by Dr. Edward Brennan, President [of] FSD Biosciences, and his team,” said FSD Executive Co-Chair and Chief Executive Officer Raza Bokhari, M.D.

“We contacted the FDA in late-March 2020 after becoming aware that several Italian physicians and scientists were advocating for use of ultramicronized PEA (ultramicronized Palmitoylethanolamide) for patients suffering from symptoms of COVID-19, based on the drug’s mechanism of action as a potent and safe anti-inflammatory agent that reduces the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines,” continued Bokhari. “Numerous studies over the past forty years also validate the efficacy and safety of ultramicronized PEA in the treatment and prophylactic effects in respiratory infections. These studies also pointed out that the ease of application of PEA offers the possibility to have a quick therapeutic answer ready in case of a flu epidemic.”

The FDA study will be “a randomized, controlled, double-blind, U.S. multi-center study to assess the efficacy and safety of FSD-201 dosed 600mg or 1200mg twice-daily.” Study participants will be chosen that display COVID-19 symptoms and treatment duration will be fourteen days.

Continued demand for hand sanitizer produced a partnership between the Professional Golf Association, Connecticut section and local producers Harbor Hemp Company. The Association has endorsed Harbor’s hand sanitizer, which does not contain hemp but has potent sanitizing ingredients.

“In April, Harbor Hemp revamped its production facilities as a response to the coronavirus pandemic and began making hand sanitizer to distribute to area first-responders,” the hemp product producer, based in the towns of Glastonbury and Tolland, Connecticut, explained.

Harbor Hemp Hand Sanitizer is available for purchase at the company’s website.

Even northernmost state Alaska has felt the effects of the pandemic and cannabis industry members have responded with community outreach. Sadly, that’s easier said than done for some charities in need.

Local cannabis brand Top Hat Cannabis said it tried to donate to several nonprofits, only to find that a few organizations were forced to turn down the contributions.

“We’re philanthropic in our regular nature. It’s hard to be visibly philanthropic in the cannabis industry,” Lacy Wilcox, president of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association and co-founder of Top Hat Cannabis, said in a press release. “There’s a little bit of hope that other nonprofits will realize it might be worth the risk, and it’s worth advocating for our existence. If there’s a way to encourage seeing if there’s a way they can be receptive to cannabis funding.”

Organizations risk violations of federal nonprofit regulations by accepting donations from industries or individuals that may be involved in activities prohibited by U.S. federal laws, which include cannabis industry operations.

Eventually, Top Hat was able to openly donate $10,000 to the Southeast Alaska Food Bank. Wilcox said she hopes that it will encourage other nonprofits to accept contributions from cannabis industry members and raise community support for cannabis businesses, especially as global populations face the unknowns left in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

So far, Alaska has seen 487 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and ten deaths from the virus.

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