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Massachusetts Closes Recreational Pot Shops Amid Outbreak

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker issued a stay-at-home order on Monday as more states ramp up their response to the coronavirus pandemic that continues to sweep the globe. Under the order from the Republican governor, nonessential businesses were directed to close by noon on Tuesday for two weeks and residents were asked to remain at home.

Baker said at a press conference on Monday that his directive would not apply to the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries, which he said would be “treated for all intents and purposes the same way we treat healthcare operations.” 

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission advised dispensaries to “encourage good hygiene, urge employees to stay home when they feel sick, and be flexible and considerate with sick leave benefits, amongst other precautions.”

But Baker’s decision to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to remain open doesn’t apply to adult-use retailers, which are required to comply with the closure order. Dispensaries licensed for both medical and recreational sales were directed to serve only customers with a valid state medical marijuana identification card. Baker said that the distinction was made because recreational cannabis retailers draw a “ton of traffic” including customers from other states. At a time when Americans are being advised to stay home to help contain the spread of the virus, such additional traffic should be avoided, he said.

Cannabis Industry Opposes Decision

Baker’s decision to close recreational dispensaries has been met with opposition from the cannabis industry and advocates, who note that liquor stores will be permitted to remain open during the crisis. They also point out that many people who don’t have medical marijuana recommendations still use cannabis therapeutically, especially at this time of fear and uncertainty.

David Torrisi, president of the Commonwealth Dispensary Association, said in a statement that “two-thirds of customers use cannabis for management of medical conditions and symptoms.”

“This loss of access would be akin to losing out on over-the counter-remedies for many,” he wrote. “For others, cannabis provides a small measure of relaxation which can help to ease the anxieties we are all facing during this time, much like a glass of wine to unwind at the end of the day.”

Cannabis industry leaders point to other states that have determined that all marijuana retailers are essential businesses, allowing them to remain open during closure orders. By establishing social distancing protocols and permitting curbside pickup and home delivery, recreational shops could serve their customers while keeping them safe, they say. Sales could also be restricted to Massachusetts residents to eliminate traffic from out of state.

“There are thoughtful ways to do this, but to just knock it out — it isn’t right, and it’s not fair,” said David O’Brien, the president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association. “It’s discriminatory to adult-use cannabis consumers in a state where it’s legal.”

Representatives of the cannabis industry plan to petition Baker to reconsider his order to include recreational cannabis shops in the closures. The governor’s stay-at-home advisory and order to close nonessential businesses is scheduled to last until April 7.

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