California Cannabis Businesses Are “Essential” and Can Operate During the Coronavirus Shutdown

We were pushing hard for this. On March 21, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control sent the following email notifying cannabis licensees that they may continue operating despite the state’s lockdown order:

On Thursday, March 19, 2020 Governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay at home order to protect the health and well-being of all Californians and to establish a consistent approach across the state to slow the spread of COVID-19. This order went into effect on Thursday, March 19, 2020, and is in place until further notice.

The order identifies certain services as essential, including food, prescriptions, and healthcare. These services can continue despite the stay at home order. Because cannabis is an essential medicine for many residents, licensees may continue to operate at this time so long as their operations comply with local rules and regulations.

Any licensee that continues to operate must adopt social distancing and anti-congregating measures and must follow the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease at all times.”

The state’s March 20, 2020 list of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers expressly includes “[w]orkers supporting cannabis retail.”

Emergency legislation is being enacted and amended by local, state and the federal government at a rapid pace, and it is unclear how long this guidance will last. For now, as of this writing, California cannabis businesses can continue to operate despite the “stay at home” order.

Just two weeks ago, California’s cannabis industry faced serious distress. Now, the industry may end up being one of very few that sustains and even thrives during this period of COVID-induced closures. Continued operation of cannabis businesses may provide much-needed revenue to local jurisdictions with license regimes in place, in addition to keeping workers employed and landlords paid.

If your cannabis business will continue to operate, please keep in mind not only the CDC’s guidance, but also OSHA regulations including the worker’s right to refuse dangerous work, and common sense safeguards to ensure your business is not contributing to the spread of COVID. Note the federal government still prohibits cannabis activity, and the federal guidance on critical essential workforce does not include cannabis-related workers.

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