Cannabis and Coronavirus: Reopening Amid Unrest, Virus Spikes

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Image: Silver Wings SS / Shutterstock.com

Even as civil unrest continued in cities across the United States, since the May 25 death of George Floyd and several police-involved killings of African Americans, states affected by the coronavirus pandemic attempted to reopen businesses and economies after three months of quarantine restrictions.

Currently, there have been more than two million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., resulting in more than 119,000 deaths, which amount to a quarter of deaths from the virus worldwide.

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Reopening protocols assumed by U.S. states include the resumption of retail business with social distancing requirements in some areas. In California, restaurants have been allowed to reopen, while many customers continue to utilize delivery and takeout options. Next week, California nail salons, tattoo parlors, and bars are scheduled to open, despite increasing rates of infection.

Cannabis businesses—which were designated as “essential services” in several legal states in the first phases of the pandemic—have felt the anxiety and uncertainty of unprecedented global events that have shaken several industries.

High profile events in 2020 that require large gatherings have been cancelled, and now include the postponement of cannabis cultivation and extraction conference, the 4th annual Grow Up Conference and Awards, which was scheduled to be held in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, from September 1–3.

“The health and safety of our attendees, speakers, and exhibitors are our main priority,” president for Grow Up Randy Rowe said in a press release. “Even though our event is three months away, we feel that we cannot responsibly produce a show that brings together 4,500 delegates and over 200 exhibitors from around the world.”

The Grow Up show has been rescheduled for Summer 2021, at a yet-to-be-determined venue in Victoria, B.C.

“The cannabis industry has made tremendous growth over the last year and we are determined to recognize the excellence and innovation with our second annual awards show,” said Grow Up co-founder Neill Dixon. “Bringing the Grow Up Awards Gala to Victoria B.C. will make it easier for our west coast growers and suppliers to be a part of the celebration.”

In New Mexico, MedicalCannbisBrief.com interviewed Medical Cannabis Program Director Dominick Zurlo about the future of “medical consumption areas” in the state. Previously approved legislation would allow the areas to open after July 1. Dispensaries can apply to have part of their premises for medical consumption.

“What I think is very safe to say is that, just like any other business or essential service, they will have to follow the COVID-19 guidelines that are set out in the public health orders and executive orders,” Zurlo said.

He added that any changes to pandemic protocols may require adjustments to restrictions for retailers, including medical cannabis dispensaries.

The economic effects of COVID-19 have been far-reaching. In Canada, governmental agency Health Canada, which regulates the country’s legal cannabis industry, is considering a fee deferral for cannabis businesses.

“As a result of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the cannabis industry, Health Canada is considering the making of an order to potentially defer the 2020–2021 payment due date. The potential deferral would apply to the annual fee for cannabis license holders in their first or subsequent fiscal years (those issued a license prior to April 1, 2020),” the agency said in an announcement.

Health Canada will take public comments into consideration until June 27. Industry members and stakeholders that wish to submit comment may contact Health Canada’s consultation webpage or submit them directly to [email protected].

In legendary cannabis cultivation region Humboldt County, California, local officials considered financial relief for the region’s cannabis businesses in the form of tax relief, even prior to the pandemic in March. At the time, the high cost of cultivation prompted officials to considered halting tax increases based on the Consumer Price Index.

Expected to address the issue at a meeting yesterday, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors declined to take action to halt the tax increases.

In early June, Law.com reported the American Bar Association (ABA) “has joined calls for federal agencies to extend COVID-19 relief to law firms with clients in the state-licensed marijuana industry.” The ABA noted that 78 percent of practicing lawyers are in areas that have some form of legal cannabis.

The pandemic also has halted six medical cannabis clinical trials, along with thousands of other various clinical trials that have been disrupted.

“Since early March, hundreds of clinical trial sponsors, collaborators, or contract research organizations (CROs) have announced disruptions to planned and ongoing clinical trials due to COVID-19. Using GlobalData’s Clinical Trials Database, it was seen that the vast majority of these trials (70 percent) were being disrupted due to a suspension of enrollment. Other reasons include slow enrollment or delayed initiation,” Johanna Swanson, product manager at business strategy consultants GlobalData, said in a post.

“Once lockdown measures start to ease, recruitment for these trials should be able to resume. If the measures do not change in the near future, companies should start to look at alternatives such as virtual or decentralized trials, if regulations allow,” she explained.

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