Cannabis and Coronavirus: Surviving the Strange Summer

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Image: Victoria Chudinova / Shutterstock.com

NATIONWIDE – Politics, protests, and natural disasters threatened to take the spotlight off the continuing COVID-19 crisis in the U.S., where infection and death rates remain higher than in any other country.

Democrats, Republicans, and the American public are readying themselves for the last sixty-two days of campaigning before the 2020 presidential election on November 3, in a year that already will go down in infamy as one of the most difficult and consequential twelve months on record.

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Cannabis industry businesses in legal states remain classified as essential services. Recent revenue reports on second quarter sales data indicated demand for medical and adult-use cannabis has steadily increased during the first three months of the pandemic.

Hoping to capitalize on recreational cannabis revenue, Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf on Tuesday released an agenda that would use revenue from state cannabis taxes to fund small businesses in disadvantaged communities, as well as restorative justice efforts.

Revenue from cannabis taxes would be part of $90 million in funding that Wolf has said he will raise, in addition to $1 billion from the CARES Act, for statewide economic relief. The funds would provide for everything from forgivable business loans and grants to personal protective equipment (PPE), childcare, and rent assistance.

Cannabis stores in Pennsylvania would be state-controlled, similar to how liquor stores in the state are operated. Medical marijuana currently is legal in the state.

In a notice published to the Federal Register on August 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) clarified why hemp farmers are not eligible for the federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).

The CFAP “provides vital financial assistance to producers of agricultural commodities who have suffered a five-percent-or-greater price decline or who had losses due to market supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19 and face additional significant marketing costs.”

In the notice, the USDA said its analysis of hemp pricing data indicated that there was only a one percent drop in prices, which did not meet the five percent threshold to qualify for CFAP assistance.

In related news, several legislators and hemp industry advocates have requested that the USDA delay changes to current hemp regulations until at least 2021, citing the industry is in its early stages and also contending with the pandemic’s effects. An interim final rule (IFR) issued now, as written, could have a chilling affect on U.S. hemp cultivation, according to hemp advocates.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked the USDA to delay issuing its U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program final rule until 2022. He reportedly said in his statement that hemp farming would produce an “indispensable crop in New York’s agricultural future.”

New York State officials last week said they would not submit a plan for state hemp regulations to the USDA this year in protest, because the department’s proposed rules are “onerous.” Lawmakers in Colorado and Oregon also support delaying the final rule on hemp regulation.

Under current federal regulations, hemp product companies still suffer due to lack of permitted to access federal emergency relief, even during a global pandemic.

Colorado-based CBD product company Meadowlark 64 was denied a request for free PPE supplies by the City of Denver, because cannabis-related businesses are not allowed to access federally funded resources.

“For folks who are in the cannabis industry, the fact that they are caught sideways between local and federal governments is not exactly news, right? This is by no means the first time they’ve heard this and regrettably probably not the last,” Susan Liehe, the marketing director for Denver’s Office of Economic Development and Opportunity told local news station KDVR FOX2.

While researchers all over the world scramble to develop a viable COVID-19 vaccine, others have been looking at the potential for high-dose CBD formulations to treat severe autoimmune reactions, sometimes seen in seriously ill coronavirus patients.

Canadian cannabis pharmaceutical company GB Sciences, Inc. on Friday announced it had applied for a provisional patent application (PPA) “assigned to GBS Global Biopharma (GBS), Inc., for the use of its new proprietary cannabinoid containing complex mixtures (CCCM™) for the treatment of cytokine storm syndromes (CSS), including acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in COVID-19 patients.”

Recent studies have focused on the anti-inflammatory effects of cannabidiol, also known as CBD, and its potential as a treatment for CSS and ARDS. Both conditions cause patients’ autoimmune systems to attack major organs; with coronavirus patients, the reactions can cause lung damage or even be fatal.

“These novel CCCM™ represent a much-needed alternative for the treatment of inflammatory disorders, including COVID-19 and many other serious conditions,” said Dr. Michael Farley, president and director at GBS Global Biopharma.

“This is a big deal,” GB Sciences Chief Executive Officer and Chairman John Poss said. “In plain English, our combinations of specific cannabinoids and terpenes were designed to quiet the immune system’s storm without totally disabling the immune system.”

Finally, in Colorado, innovative retail technology start-up Anna has set up two cannabis vending machines, at two dispensaries. The completely no-contact method of automated vending for cannabis products seems spot-on in the post-pandemic era.

Anna’s machines can stock up to 2,000 products, from flowers and edibles to oil and accessories. The company thinks they will appeal to customers that don’t want to wait in line.

“There are experienced cannabis customers who don’t necessarily need that one-on-one interaction with a budtender. They know what they want before they walk in, they’re ready to go in and out. By doing this we’re giving more time back to the people who do need hand holding and want that education from a live person,” Anna founder and Chief Executive Officer Matt Frost said. “With COVID and social distancing and contactless, definitely we have an appeal there, as well.”

The company hopes to expand quickly throughout Colorado, and also is developing CBD product vending machines.

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