In North America, we’ve begun to acclimate to conditions that were entirely unthinkable even a month ago. A trip to the grocery store has become an arduous task involving face masks and the studious avoidance of other customers.
But at least there’s no threat of grocery stores being shut down. Whether access to cannabis dispensaries will be considered “essential” in these bizarre and anxious times is now being debated by politicians and advocacy groups across the U.S.
Massachusetts came into the spotlight last week over the issue, when Governor Charlie Baker made the decision to close down recreational marijuana shops. Baker explained his position at a press conference on Tuesday:
If we make recreational marijuana available, we are going to have to deal with the fact that people are going to come here from all over the place...and create issues for us with respect to the fundamental issue we are trying to solve for here — which is to stop the spread (of Coronavirus).
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) was quick to take the side of veterans’ groups protesting the closures. In a tweet on Wednesday, she noted that, since health providers at the Department of Veterans Affairs cannot recommend or assist veterans’ groups in obtaining marijuana, the closure of recreational marijuana shops effectively cuts veterans off from legally accessing what many of them rely on.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) also weighed in on the issue during an Instagram session in which she took questions from listeners. Her response tied the issue of legal dispensaries to that of liquor stores:
“I’d say that if your state is deeming liquor stores to be an essential business, it doesn’t seem consistent as to why a liquor store would be essential but a dispensary wouldn’t,” Ocasio-Cortez replied. “You’ve got to make a decision one way or another.”
But on the other side, legalization opponents are airing their opinions in the press as well. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), released a statement urging state governors to close marijuana storefronts to mitigate public health threats:
We have seen numerous reports of marijuana stores with long lines of people stocking up on the drug and have additionally seen states move to keep these stores open. Quite frankly, this presents a unique harm to public health and safety.
But dispensary closures aside, the current health crisis may end up having an even bigger effect on cannabis law in the U.S. With COVID-19 taking up so much oxygen in the political room, cannabis legislation that had been gaining momentum will have to be put aside until the crisis subsides.