Deemed as essential as pharmacies, marijuana dispensaries remain open, report uptick in sales

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Dispensaries are abiding by the same common-sense procedures applying to all people and businesses right now, such as regular cleaning of spaces and social distancing.

Operators say they are striving to keep groups under 10 people, per federal guidance, which is something the state can monitor remotely by tapping into security cameras. But that’s not necessarily changing much for most dispensaries. The most people allowed in the retail area at Botanist locations is 10, with no more than two patients in the room for every dispensary employee. That’s a standard rule there in place before coronavirus became a worry.

The Botanist locations have taken some additional measures, such as discarding reading materials in the waiting room and eliminating sniff jars — for obvious hygienic reasons. Measures like this are being widely promoted by the Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association trade group.

Some of the 50-plus dispensaries open today are considering modified hours, said Cameron McNamee, a spokesperson for the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, but they have to request to make that change first through the state. That would be predominantly for those looking to stay open for less time.

To protect patients, McNamee added, many of whom would be considered high-risk for COVID-19 infection, some groups are coming up with “creative solutions” like enabling someone to place an order while in the parking lot, then sending them a text when they’re OK to come inside and pick that up without others present.

Home delivery is something that’s been asked about, but it is unlikely to be implemented at this time because of various potential issues that creates in terms of health, safety and legalities. For one, the only nonpatient groups presently allowed to transport marijuana in Ohio legally are cultivators and processors.

“We are a little concerned about home delivery, but also because you’re dealing with a lot of cash,” McNamee said. “We are sensitive to that.”

The state is planning to issue guidance to encourage any patient that needs to reup their cards to consider doing that via telemedicine. It will also prompt high-risk COVID-19 patients to consider getting a registered caregiver so someone can pick up supplies for them.

The situation with increased traffic recently and the COVID-19 pandemic raises some other issues the state might address in the near future.

Henry noted that the 90-day supply limit for patients is something that should be abolished for their benefit. Many customers are attempting to stock up on supplies to reduce the amount of times they need to go out. But that 90-day supply, which many patients could burn through quicker than 90 days anyway, will require them to make more trips than they may want. The caregiver route would address this — as well as a home-delivery option — but not everyone has one of those.

“The 90-day supply is a problem,” Henry said. “It’s making people interact more than they need to. If (the state) could suspend the 90-day supply, that would be really helpful for patients and a strong move to protect patient safety.”

It’s possible state regulators could make some changes to the medical marijuana program rules in light of such concerns in the coming weeks.

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