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Denver Mayor: Cannabis Stores Can Remain Open

The city of Denver, Colorado is upping the ante on its recommendation that residents stay at home to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. At 5 p.m. (MST) Tuesday, March 23, Denver will elevate the city’s policy on social distancing to an executive order, effective through April 10 at the earliest. 

The order will impact people’s everyday activities as well as commerce, but it won’t completely hinder residents’ ability to shop for cannabis. That’s because Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock says retail cannabis shops are exempt from the closures impacting many other businesses. 

Marijuana stores, along with liquor stores, banks, gas stations, construction operations and businesses that supply products that allow people to work and go to school from their residence will remain open while the stay at home order is in effect. 

Marijuana Shops With “Extreme Physical Distancing” Now Exempt From Denver’s COVID-19 Closures

Denver, Colorado isn’t shuttering its cannabis businesses during the COVID-19 emergency. But precautions aimed at helping prevent the spread of coronavirus will impact purchasing and how shops interact with customers.

In order to remain exempt from the COVID-19 closures, marijuana shops must ensure that they can maintain a system of “extreme physical distancing” between customers and shop employees. To remain open, Mayor Hancock’s order requires shops to keep a strict limit on the number of people allowed on the premises. 

For medical cannabis customers, the physical distancing measures mean only a very few patients will be able to access the in-person retail space at any time. Recreational customers, on the other hand, will have to place their orders online or over the phone and receive their cannabis products via curbside delivery. 

Long Lines Prompt Denver Mayor to Shift Stance on Cannabis and Liquor Stores

Initially, the Denver mayor’s order to close non-essential businesses included recreational cannabis and liquor retail, with an exemption for medical cannabis patients. But once word got out that marijuana and liquor stores would be closed for at least two weeks, people flocked to nearby stores in hopes of stocking up. 

The long lines outside cannabis and liquor shops raised an urgent public health concern, almost immediately becoming hotspots for coronavirus exposure. One shopper, Wesley Donlan, described the scene inside one liquor store to CBS Denver: “It’s a madhouse in there, just people going crazy grabbing whatever they can.”

The panicked efforts to purchase cannabis and liquor and the long waiting lines outside prompted Mayor Hancock to revise the decision to close down recreational cannabis and liquor stores. 

Just hours after the initial announcement Monday, Hancock reversed the order to clarify that recreational marijuana shops could remain open, so long as they implement extreme physical distancing protocols. By definition, “extreme” means maintaining six feet of space between persons. 

Physical Distancing Protocols Raise Accessibility Concerns for Patients

Despite Denver’s relaxing its stance on marijuana shops, industry and patient advocates say it’s still not enough. According to Denver-based lobbyist and consultant Cindy Sovine, many medical patients have let their registrations lapse due to the increased availability of recreational products. Now, those medical consumers are losing access to in-person purchasing and have to rely on curbside pickup and potentially, limited availability of recreational cannabis products.

Additionally, many municipalities have yet to adopt cannabis delivery, a step Sovine feels would be the safest way to maintain access while preventing coronavirus exposure.

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