The arrival of two FDA-approved corona vaccines suggests the pandemic could be under control, or at least more under control, within months. But what does it mean for the cannabis industry, where work has never stopped and so much rhetoric within the space presents weed as an alternative to conventional medicine?
WeedWeek talked to Laura Bianchi, a partner with Arizona firm Bianchi & Brandt, about how her cannabis clients think about vaccination.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
WeedWeek: What are the current issues within the cannabis industry regarding the coronavirus vaccine?
Laura Bianchi: Everyone is trying to figure out how to keep patients and consumers safe, while also keeping their employees safe. While it’s different from state to state, in Arizona dispensaries are required by statute to remain open a certain amount of time, 30 hours a week. In addition, people are trying to reduce the amount of times they’re going out or going into stores. So they’re purchasing more at one time and it’s just created an incredible increase in demand.
And then keep in mind, the cultivation side of this industry is agricultural. Those are not nine to five facilities, right? Those were around the clock cultivation and manufacturing facilities. It’s been really challenging for them to protect employees and patients.
Another component is a lot of these individuals tend to be hourly. So people unfortunately are put in positions where they don’t have the option of quarantining when they’re thinking about paying rent or feeding their kids. A lot of issues have come up in the industry that we’ve been trying to help clients address.
WW: Have you heard of a reluctance in the cannabis industry to use the vaccine? I have.
LB: I have not. I know it’s sort of an opinion and it depends on each person. For a lot of business owners, this is something that their employees can take and that will keep people safe and will help them from having these really difficult decisions, whether it’s on the businesses or on the employees themselves.
I think people are anxious for some sort of resolution. When you’re fast tracking things, there’s always a certain question of ‘Are we making sure that it’s gone through the proper channels?’ and things. But at least our clients have been excited for some sort of option that will help them keep their employees and their patients safe.
WW: Are your clients thinking of making it mandatory for employees?
LB: Some, yeah. It’s a subject that’s just started to come up. Arizona is an at-will employee state and for a lot of employers, again, especially ones that are trying to manage 24 hour facilities, it’s a cost benefit analysis. They’re thinking how do I keep everyone safe and, and make sure that we don’t have it spreading throughout a facility and bankrupting businesses, quite frankly. I think a lot of them are considering whether to make it mandatory.
WW: What issues with regard to the vaccine, do you see as unique to cannabis compared to other industries?
LB: Anytime you’re dealing with a vaccination, there are exceptions, religious concerns, certain health concerns, things like that. In that respect, cannabis is absolutely like any other business.
I do think there is a medical component, especially in medical markets, since, cannabis is a nutraceutical or a naturopathic remedy for a lot of individuals. So, in speaking with your employees what’s their comfort level? It becomes a balancing of how do I keep the most employees safe while listening to, and, and understanding their concerns. I don’t know if that’s really unique to cannabis, I would say that’s really any business, but you know, maybe a little bit more in the cannabis industry.
WW: Are there any other additional points that, that you’d like to make that I haven’t thought to ask?
LB: The vaccination comes at a time that is really unique for the industry. It’s an industry that again, can’t function remotely. And because it has that agricultural component, facilities can be more prone to, to widespread exposures.
The cannabis industry has really been affected by coronavirus and has tried very hard to, to figure out how to deal with it. Some for example have given employees paid time off.
The pandemic is certainly something that a lot of clients have spent a lot of time and money trying to navigate for everyone’s safety. I think the vaccination comes as a welcome sight. And I think there’s hopefulness that, that it will be available soon. It’s an important step forward for a lot of people in the industry.
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