By Devyani Chhetri
BU News Service
BOSTON – A debate is brewing on whether Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker can ban the sale of recreational adult-use marijuana after it was categorized as a non-essential service in an emergency order announced March 23.
The emergency order, which also announced a “stay-at-home” advisory and lowered the limit of gatherings to 10 people, mandated the closure of physical operations of services deemed non-essential and asked businesses to transition into remote workflows beginning Tuesday at noon until at least April 7.
This order came on the heels of 777 confirmed COVID-19 cases and nine deaths in the state as of March 23.
“Acting now to prevent more person-to-person interaction and spreading the virus will buy us more time so our health care system can prepare for a challenge unlike any they’ve seen before,” Baker said Monday during a press conference.
However, even as the sale of adult-use marijuana was banned, medical marijuana dispensaries were permitted to remain open after being classified as an essential service.
Stakeholders in the industry said the classification felt unfair because alcohol shops were allowed to remain open during this period.
“Although adult use is regulated separately from medical marijuana, two-thirds of customers use cannabis for management of medical conditions and symptoms,” said David Torrisi, president of the Commonwealth Dispensary Association. “This loss of access would be akin to losing out on over-the-counter remedies for many.”
Torrisi said several marijuana consumers used the drug for a small measure of relaxation to ease the anxieties faced during the pandemic like “a glass of wine to unwind at the end of the day.”
He said marijuana establishments had already taken steps to enforce social distancing protocols in line with local government orders.
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced a public health emergency March 15 that led to the closure of restaurants and bars and permitted only take-out or delivery services.
In the past week, New England Treatment Access (NETA) in Brookline suspended the sale of recreational marijuana to reduce the number of customers congregating in violation of social distancing protocols.
Meanwhile, the recently opened Pure Oasis scaled down the number of employees working in the store.
Following Boston, Cambridge announced a state of emergency Thursday. As a response, Revolutionary Clinics shortened hours of operation and switched to mostly order-ahead/pick-up only services, according to a company statement.
“We cannot forget our promise to serve patients,” said Keith Cooper, CEO of Revolutionary Clinics. “We have implemented temporary changes in our operations so that [customers] can access the medicine they need with peace of mind. These changes allow us to look after the well-being of both staff and patients.”
Revolutionary Clinics, which has been tussling with Cambridge to expand it’s services into recreational marijuana use, also announced it would donate 2% of its proceeds towards the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund.
Torrisi said the governor should reconsider the classification of adult-use marijuana operators.
“These businesses provide therapeutic value to thousands of Massachusetts residents,” Torrisi said. “As well as vital revenue from taxes that will be more critical than ever in relief efforts.”