Recreational Marijuana Shops in Massachusetts Will Reopen on May 25

theory-wellness

Recreational cannabis shops in Massachusetts will reopen on May 25, two months after they were deemed non-essential and ordered to close amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced a four-phase reopening plan that will enable some of the state’s currently shuttered businesses to resume operations.

Retailers, including adult-use marijuana dispensaries, will be allowed to reopen during phase one but will be limited to remote fulfilment and curbside pickup orders only.

In a statement, Commonwealth Dispensary Association (CDA) president David Torrisi said the inclusion of recreational cannabis shops reflects the “industry’s commitment to workplace and consumer safety," and its "history of compliance and significant regulatory oversight.”

Though recreational dispensaries were deemed essential in other states where adult-use sales are legal, Baker forced Massachusetts cannabis businesses to temporarily cease operations on March 24 over fears that customers from across New England would travel to Massachusetts to purchase marijuana and further the spread of COVID-19 in the process.

Massachusetts is the only state in the Northeast where both recreational and medical marijuana sales are currently legal. Medical marijuana dispensaries were allowed to remain open, however.

The decision to close adult-use shops drew the ire of industry cannabis stakeholders and consumers alike, who unsuccessfully challenged the decision in court last month and argued that it could cripple the industry.

“In addition to beginning to restore access to safe, tested adult-use cannabis, this determination provides a first step in providing meaningful economic relief to the more than 2,000 Massachusetts cannabis employees who will be able to return to work,” Torrisi said.

Speaking to THCNet, Matt Gamble, the vice president of operations at Theory Wellness, said furloughed employees were excited when they got the call to come back to work. He also suspects that cannabis users will also be equally excited and eager to replenish their stashes.

“I would imagine there is a lot of pent-up demand,” he said. “I know people stocked up before the shutdown, and I would imagine they are looking to re-up again.”

Garden Remedies spokeswoman Shayna Vigilotta echoed that sentiment, saying that demand would be “heavy.”

“We will also be actively monitoring online ordering demand so that we keep the number of orders at a level we can serve safely,” she wrote to THCnet via email.

Even though customers won’t be able to physically enter the retail shops for at least three weeks, workers will be required to wear masks and maintain a safe physical distance from one another. Frequently touched areas will also need to be routinely cleaned, sanitized and disinfected, and other hygiene protocols will be mandatory.

According to the Baker-Polito Administration, all businesses wishing to reopen on May 25 “must develop a written COVID-19 Control Plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Massachusetts has created and made available a Control Plan template, as well as other reopening resources, for business owners.

Torrisi, who presented a reopening plan to Gov. Baker's Reopening Advisory Board, said his group has been preparing for a “phased resumption of adult-use operations.”

The CDA's “comprehensive COVID-19 safety plan” combines existing protocols from medical operators who have remained open during the shutdown with other best practices and input from the group's 38 members.

For her part, Vigilotta said Garden Remedies “completely changed” its medical dispensary business model when shelter-in-place orders went into effect in March. The company, which also sells recreational cannabis products, converted 100% of its business to online ordering and pickup and added numerous safety procedures to its facilities. Employees were required to wear masks and gloves, surfaces were frequently sanitized, and contact pickup was limited, she said.

“These new business practices that we created to support medical patients will help us as we move forward and sell to adult-use consumers,” she wrote via email. “Our focus in the reopening will be on offering high quality cannabis and keeping our patients, customers, and employees safe.”

According to the CDA, Massachusetts’ recreational cannabis industry has created more than 8,000 jobs and generated $120 million in new state and local revenue since sales began in late 2018.

Gov. Baker’s decision to shut down recreational pot shops left many cannabis businesses owners wondering whether they’d survive the pandemic, especially since federal financial relief is unavailable to cannabis firms because marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

Vigilotta told THCnet that upwards of 85% of Garden Remedies' sales were lost over the last two months as a result of the closure.

“Our medical business increased but not enough to make up for the loss in adult-use,” she said, referring to sharp uptick in new patients who obtained medical marijuana cards.

Now, as Massachusetts begins to emerge from the shutdown, Torrisi said the taxes collected from the sale of recreational cannabis will help refill state coffers.

“By beginning to safely resume adult-use cannabis operations through this plan, our industry will continue to make critical contributions by bringing in millions of dollars of state and local tax revenue to help fill depleted public funds,” he said.


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