PEI opened cannabis dispensaries and banned mask-wearing

Published Jun 5, 2020 01:00 p.m. ET
iStock / MichikoDesign

Some provinces allowed their cannabis dispensaries to remain open for the public to walk in during the lockdowns, as they were deemed to be an essential service, but Prince Edward Island chose to do things a little bit differently. On May 22nd, all pot shops in the area were finally allowed to re-open, around the same time as many other places that decided to shutter in-person service temporarily, however, PEI did something that no other has done so far, by completely banning masks and face coverings.

Who can’t wear a face mask?

Initially, some who heard the news assumed that the decision was only directed towards customers, but unfortunately, the prohibiting of wearing a face mask or covering is for both consumers and the employees that work there. The same is true for immune-compromised visitors, as anyone who attempts to wear a face mask of any sort inside will be asked to either remove it or exit the premises.

Why this decision raises concern

At first, Canadians everywhere were told that they should not wear a face mask, as surgical masks and the most highly protective n95 mask were in short supply for the medical professionals who needed them most. However, the advice from public officials shifted in a different direction in April, when premiere Doug Ford from Ontario announced that wearing a face mask in places where social distancing isn’t possible could provide protection from COVID-19.

By the middle of May, public health officials took the same tune as Doug Ford, telling all Canadians that a face mask or covering could help to protect them against the possibility of spreading COVID-19. Justin Trudeau also modeled these recommendations when addressing the nation, while wearing a black material face mask and parroting the very same advice to all who listened in.

Amid all of the confusion, as a coronavirus update, Canadian health officials took the time to explain how wearing a face mask could potentially help in certain situations. This contagious respiratory illness is spread through moisture droplets that can leave the body through the mouth or nose when speaking, coughing, or sneezing, and they can land on people or surfaces that are several feet away. Wearing a face mask stops that from happening and protects everyone who is sharing space with the wearer.

Unfortunately, the majority of face coverings will not protect you from breathing in or coming into contact with droplets that contain traces of COVID-19. Wearing a face mask does not protect the person wearing it nearly as much as one might hope. Instead, it protects everybody else in the vicinity in cases where a person is unknowingly infected, as a-symptomatic cases are incredibly common.

However, when everyone puts on a face mask, the game changes entirely, and it reduces the risk of catching COVID-19 greatly for all parties involved. Therefore, so many larger chain stores have introduced rules that force, in the very least, their employees to wear protection that includes a face mask. Some have taken it to a whole nother level by requiring customers to wear a face-covering as well, so it is unusual and against public health recommendations to ban them completely.

Why would they do this?

To date, there has been no open public statement to explain this strange new rule, but there are a couple of reasons that they might have decided to go in this direction. Prince Edward Island is faring quite well, with only a handful of COVID-19 cases and significantly declining numbers each day, so the risk is not very high in this area.

This fact weighed against a budtender’s ability to distinguish an individual's age by comparing their face to their provided identification may have left decision makers believing that this was the only truly safe way to move forward with opening, but not everyone is happy with the decision, as the risk of COVID-19 is still very real and fresh in most people’s minds.

Does this put consumers who visit open dispensaries at risk?

If you’re disappointed to hear about this possibility coming to a dispensary near you, then you are not alone, but it is important to note that open dispensaries are still expected to maintain higher standards than ever before. They will need to limit the number of visitors in-store at any given time, increase sanitization practices, and maintain social distancing between customers who are waiting outside.

Prince Edward Island has also required all pot shops to stop accepting cash as a payment method to cut down on the transmission of germs. The amount of risk that comes with this situation depends greatly on a few variables, including the customer's health, the number of active cases in a region, and other potential changes that could be made to how open dispensaries conduct business.

Should you still shop at a dispensary if they don’t allow a face mask?

Whether or not you should choose to visit an open dispensary that doesn’t allow face masks or coverings should be a personal decision. In some regions like PEI, opening in this fashion may not increase the risk of transmission at all, but since there is no way to know for certain, many consumers won’t feel entirely comfortable with this situation and that’s ok. They can still order online and ride out the storm in the safety of their home, without having to go out and take any risks.

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