Why some cannabis businesses might require the COVID-19 vaccine

Published Jan 22, 2021 01:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Ridofranz

Pot shops, producers, and everyone in between went from taboo to essential overnight, as the coronavirus spread across the world in 2020. It’s been an interesting ride that’s kept much of the green industry open for business, but sacrifices have been made all along the way in order to get here. The sheer cost of safely functioning amid a pandemic has taken a toll on all cannabis businesses. Still, they continue to make any changes that might help to keep their consumers and employees out of harm's way.

Even recreational marijuana stores have continued to serve the public throughout this crisis, using things like social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizer to cut down on risk exposure for everyone involved. Some areas have switched to online ordering, curbside pickup, or delivery, and everywhere you look, there are new barriers and procedures in place. Cannabis businesses, like any other, want to keep people healthy and safe, but the question is now, how far can they really take it?

The coronavirus vaccine

When the news of a successful vaccine made headlines, the whole world breathed a small sigh of relief. Though the fight is nowhere near over yet, the shot is the light at the end of the tunnel that we’ve all been told to wait for, so most people are now a bit more hopeful about salvaging what’s left of 2021. Unfortunately, it’s going to take time, patience, and a whole lot of money to get the coronavirus vaccine to everyone, a task that could take much of the year. In the meantime, we’re prioritizing those who are most at risk.

Right now, the vaccine is only available to select groups of people, with each country setting its own rules and restrictions, but the majority are fast-tracking doses to healthcare professionals, the elderly, anyone who services either of them as well as those with a compromised immune system, a move that should reduce ICU capacity and deaths. As the rest of us await a larger, more widely available rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, the great debate over who all should be forced to take it continues.

The great debate

Most people would agree that it’s in the best interest of everyone right now to slow the rate of infection so that we can buy time, as larger amounts of the population are vaccinated against COVID-19. This saves lives, reduces the load on hospitals, which allowed them to proceed with surgeries and other life-altering procedures, and it allows us to loosen restrictions, which means getting back to something that at least somewhat resembles “normal” life. What we don’t all agree on is how to get there.

Some believe that the Coronavirus vaccine is the holy grail we’ve all been waiting for and that since it’s the ultimate solution, everyone should be forced to take it as quickly as possible. A small group believes that the whole thing is a hoax, cringing at the idea of a forced shot, and a lot of people are somewhere in the middle, unsure of what to expect or whether or not they should proceed. Many want to have the choice to decide for themselves, but as they deliberate, so too are their employers.

Those who work in healthcare will be expected to get the Coronavirus vaccine, with the exception of a select few who have a legitimate reason for going against the grain because they deal with sick and vulnerable patients. This way of thinking is nothing new in this line of work, as many precautions are taken to protect compromised individuals, but should other places of employment be considering their own vaccine requirements?

Why some cannabis businesses might implement similar rules

You might not see these kinds of requests for the average retail or fast-food job, and even larger scale operations like factories with dozens of workers who spend hours each day in close quarters may not consider the pushback to be worth it, but some cannabis businesses are heavily weighing their options, and quite a few of them are leaning towards a mandatory Coronavirus vaccine. Producers, manufacturers, extractors, and those who work behind the scenes, might not have to get it, but dispensaries and other cannabis businesses that come in direct contact with the public may want it to be a requirement.

The work that is done in dispensaries isn’t only for recreational marijuana consumers, though they do tend to be the group most highlighted by the media. Customers who shop or need a consultation for cannabis often do so because they’re using it as a medicine, and as you can probably guess, the majority of those who do, are immune compromised. This puts them at high risk of contracting COVID-19, a risk that some cannabis business owners might not be willing to take.

The law

In most US states and Canada, it is entirely legal for certain employers to have vaccine requirements for employees. The trick is that in order for such a sweeping rule to be completely legal, there always needs to be some sort of loophole. Employees with medical or religious reasons for not being vaccinated cannot be fired if they choose not to get it, but those who cannot sufficiently prove a valid reason may face repercussions, such as being fired.

In the end

The Coronavirus vaccine might not end the pandemic entirely but having those who work with vulnerable individuals protected can make a huge difference in the severity of the outcome that we will all eventually face. Whether or not it’s the right move to make the shot mandatory is still up for debate, but the goal to protect people is an honorable one, and regardless of your stance on the matter, that much is certain.

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