Why cannabis dispensaries are considered an essential service

Published Apr 1, 2020 09:00 a.m. ET
iStock / HighGradeRoots

Panic and fear have encircled the globe as the spread of COVID-19 continues at an alarming rate with no clear end in sight, and much of the world is shutting down in hopes of slowing the speed at which this terrible disease is progressing. These are uncertain and extraordinary times that are forcing some significant changes and measures to ensure that the public listens to recommendations from health officials, and as the numbers of active cases rise, the restrictions on what can stay open have tightened.

A state of emergency

The United States and Canada are two of the most recent countries to announce lockdowns, as cases took longer to emerge in these areas, but up until a few weeks ago, most businesses continued with life, as usual, refusing to heed the warnings of news outlets covering the devastation taking place in other parts of the world. Between stores staying open, and government officials sending out mixed messages that for the longest time, seemed to imply we had little to fear, it’s taken some once in a lifetime changes to force everybody to listen.

Neither federal governments have applied much force, but individual states and provinces are taking the reins and introducing measures that are aimed at protecting the health and safety of the people by calling for a state of emergency. This announcement didn’t seem to impact much at first, but as things heat up and the risk of our hospitals becoming overwhelmed rises, laws are being created to suit the crisis that is before us. Few are arguing against this necessary shift, but some are questioning the science behind these decisions.

So, what makes an essential service?

One of the biggest changes that we are now seeing is businesses that do not provide essential services being told that they must close. Now at first, you might not realize just how many jobs are somehow connected to essential services, as many people are confused about what it really means because there are quite a few things that we can go for a while without, but the truth is that the answer is a bit fuzzy, and to fully understand the reasons behind it, you would really have to look at the bigger picture.

An essential service can be a lot of things, but in general, it includes any business or agency that either directly conduct and offers a necessary service or one that is related to another offering services such as healthcare, transportation, packaging or manufacturing, or anything relating to providing basic necessity for the public. As for the companies that make the cut, they include stores that sell things like tools and materials for home repairs, groceries, health products, and medicines, but there are a few exceptions that are highly debated like liquor stores and cannabis dispensaries.

Why are cannabis dispensaries an essential service?

Parks, schools, and universities are closed, and all of the fun fueling businesses like malls, theaters, indoor play spaces, arcades, hobby shops, and gaming facilities have now been ordered to close to the public, but cannabis dispensaries are allowed to continue functioning like normal, and this has a lot of people upset. This is caused by a lack of compassion and understanding surrounding the importance of dispensaries in our local communities.

Cannabis dispensaries have been deemed an essential service by the majority of regions that have begun to lock things down, and there is no one reason behind this decision. Though most people view dispensaries as the last thing that we need to worry about keeping open, that is usually because they do not realize the incredible benefits that so many people receive through these stores and from their products.

The naysayers are entitled to their opinion, but there is no way to take an educated stance without having all of the facts, which is why we wanted to take the time to cover some of the most vital services that cannabis dispensaries offer to both the public and medicinal patients.

1. Medical patients

In Canada alone, there are thousands of license holding cannabis patients who depend on the life-sustaining benefits of cannabinoids to maintain a fair quality of life, and many of them use it to either avoid opioids altogether or in conjunction with pharmaceutical aids to control their symptoms. These people are cancer patients, people with mental health issues, and other vulnerable individuals who would suffer greatly if their supply were to be cut off.

If we were to make the rash decision to close all cannabis dispensaries, thousands of medically fragile individuals, many of whom have compromised immune systems, would be forced indoors to either suffer in silence or into the waiting room of their health practitioners. The lucky few who might manage to get a real appointment would then need to have direct contact with a doctor, followed by a visit to the pharmacy, with all of them having to travel in various directions to get there.

This one problem alone could have hazardous consequences, especially at a time when most physicians aren’t seeing patients, and unnecessary public excursions are highly discouraged. Think of how easy it is for them to stop by their local dispensary for a refill, versus how many people they would have to come into contact with along the journey to find a reasonable supplement, and it won’t take you long to realize why this is and should be an essential service.


2. Self-medicating

Now that we’ve covered what patients who require cannabis for medicinal purposes might go through, its time to consider what many others might experience if cannabis dispensaries were to close because you don’t need to have a verified medical need to benefit from cannabinoids. In fact, the research shows that there are millions of consumers who use cannabis to self-medicate for a variety of reasons, including pain, anxiety, mental health conditions, issues with appetite, nausea, irritability, and trouble sleeping.

For every person with a valid medical card, there are even more who have suffered for years in silence, and their only reprieve is a little bit of weed. If we were to take that away from them, they could turn to other more dangerous options. It could also increase instances of abuse, and overall decrease the quality of life of millions of people, and this is just one more reason why government are deeming cannabis dispensaries to be an essential service.

3. Withdrawal symptoms

Most know cannabis for its label as a safe substance, because you cannot overdose on it, and it’s effects are relatively mild in nature, but unfortunately, just like coffee drinkers or sugar junkies, if you take away an agent that acts like a drug, there will be a potential for withdrawal symptoms. These could range from body aches and pains to nausea or mood swings, and it’s something that is difficult to go through when you have little else to take your mind off it.

Removing access to cannabis for these people could lead to a dangerous result, especially when they are all currently trapped inside of their homes with little reprieve alongside their neighbors, roommates, family members, and children. Those who do want to quit should do so slowly and carefully with the aid of a healthcare professional, and a plan in place, which is incredibly difficult amid a state of emergency.

4. Relaxation

Like it or not, creature comforts have become expected in the society that we live in today, and for the most part, everybody had access to something that can help to ease the stress and anxiety that comes with being placed under so much pressure. Those who fall back on coffee, energy drinks, or comfort foods can still get their fix and those who prefer activities like exercise or painting can get everything they need for that too, but for some, all it takes to relieve the panic that comes with these extenuating circumstances is a little bit of cannabis, so it’s a helpful tool in that respect.

Why liquor stores are also an essential service

Now that you likely have a better understanding of why we need access to businesses like cannabis dispensaries, it’s time to highlight another highly debated substance of choice that is keeping beer and liquor stores open as an essential service. As you can probably imagine, the relaxation that we touched on for dispensaries is transferable to alcohol, but it’s not a medical product, and that leaves many wondering why it’s been grouped with cannabis stores as an essential service.

The truth is that a state of relaxation is the only similarity between these two products and what they have to offer, as alcohol is highly addictive, and after long term use, the withdrawal symptoms can be much more devastating than those that are documented with cannabis. Alcohol withdrawal can send the body into complete shock, requiring medical intervention, which weighs down EMS and other emergency services that are already strained due to COVID-19.

Though everyone is entitled to their own opinions on what should and shouldn’t be part of the massive closure to stop the spread of this deadly virus, there is no reasonable way to argue with the facts, and the fact is that both liquor stores and cannabis dispensaries offer essential services that will keep the strain on our medical system to a minimum, which is a good part of what we are trying to achieve while we weather this crisis.

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