Many states with medical or adult use cannabis have designated those stores as an essential service, allowing cannabis retail and medical dispensaries to stay open during the coronavirus restrictions. This puts cannabis workers on the front lines of this crisis across the country. How can you protect them, your customers, and your business during the COVID-19 outbreak?
The risk extends across the entire cannabis supply chain. Producers cannot stop taking care of their plants during the outbreak. To keep the retail stores and dispensaries stocked, products must still be processed, packaged, and then delivered. Basic measures like gloves and masks are often already part of standard operating procedures. But, with concerns from workers about exposure affecting the staff keeping your operation going, it is important to know the recommended steps you can take to work safely.
It is important to start by creating a plan to promote consistency and safety in your workplace. The CDC recommendations for businesses are aimed at preventing the transmission of the virus. To promote this, all types of cannabis operations should be following some basic practices. That should include increased cleaning and disinfection, actively encouraging sick employees to stay home, identifying where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 in your workplace, and assigning a response coordinator. These are just some of the measures you should take to protect your employees.
It is also recommended that social distancing practices be implemented to maintain the needed distance between co-workers, cashiers and customers. As part of this plan you should evaluate essential employees and try to provide flexible worksites, staggered shifts, video conferencing for meetings, and adding delivery or curbside pickup to minimize customer interactions. Many stores are using tape and other visual markers to enforce social distance. Also be aware that some deliveries are coming from different parts of the state, and all drivers should avoid unnecessary stops and observe social distancing when deliveries are being processed. It is important that all elements of the supply chain follow these guidelines to ensure stores can stay open.
Unfortunately, the lack of credit card payments in many adult-use states has made curbside or delivery more difficult than it would seem. Having cannabis product and cash in an unsecure parking lot is another set of hazards. In states like Washington where delivery is not allowed, it would be quite challenging to scale up in a short time frame if the rule was changed to allow such a service. For now, many retail stores are focusing on preordering with online menu options such as Leafly and I Heart Jane.
Although cannabis remains federally illegal, OSHA has published its own set of helpful recommendations for workplace preparations you can implement with their Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19. But even with some guidance, cannabis businesses find themselves largely in uncharted waters. At the state level, little guidance has been provided for how to handle an employee that tests positive, for example. But as we all adapt to the challenge before us, we can expect more guidance to come and more changes to be needed. Until then, follow the guidelines that are available and protect your workers. They are the most valuable resource you and your business have, and when we get past this crisis you are going to need them.