In the tumultuous weeks and months of the past year, one nine-letter word has marked a turning point for the country’s legal marijuana industry: necessary.

It started about a week after the World Health Organization on the 11th. In March, the outbreak of COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.

Then California announced a nationwide corporate blockade, followed by Illinois.

In both states, marijuana operators were also considered regular businesses – the same as pharmacies, supermarkets and liquor stores – and these businesses were allowed to remain open.

California and Illinois were quickly followed by dozens of other states that declared marijuana dealers to be core business.

In total, nearly 30 states with operational marijuana markets, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have deemed marijuana businesses necessary.

The surge of important leads in the first weeks of the pandemic proved to be one of the most important moments in the history of the country’s legal marijuana industry – and likely helped to create new legal marijuana markets in the states, which are believed to generate billions of dollars in sales.

By treating marijuana as a necessity, states place cannabis cultivation in the same category as pharmacies, hospitals, and other legitimate sources of medicine.

In short, cannabis has evolved from an alternative treatment into a regular medicine, greatly increasing its credibility. State regulators and health experts forced this increase.

In addition, states place marijuana on equal footing with the federal legal industry, alcohol.

The hope was that with a substantial designation, there would be more recognition that cannabis is here to stay, that there is a strong consumer preference, said Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project and chairman of the board of directors of the U.S. Cannabis Council.

I think this is confirmed by the amount of use during this period of the pandemic.

Liesl Bernard, CEO of Cannabiz Team, a marijuana recruitment agency in San Diego, agrees.

The fact that you can’t go to the hairdresser but you can go to the pharmacy has opened many people’s eyes to the fact that this is an industry that wants to stay, Bernard said.

She added that the primary designation has led to increased interest among professionals to work in the cannabis industry, especially at a time when many of these professionals have lost their jobs in other industries.

They see that it’s important, they see that retail sales are going up, so they see that this is going to be the next big industry, Bernard said.

The important designation has led to other significant changes in the marijuana industry:

  • This has further destigmatized the drug among users.
  • In many states, regulators impose business-oriented safety measures, such as. B. Home delivery and roadside delivery.
  • State health officials have given doctors the green light to make medical marijuana recommendations through online prescriptions, also known as telemedicine. This change has made it easier for patients to access their medical records.

These factors contributed to marijuana markets across the country breaking sales records in 2020.

Industry observers also say the substantive designation has spurred marijuana legalization in seven states – five through a popular initiative and two through the legislature. It has also given new impetus to reforms at the federal level.

But business owners and attorneys have also found that a substantive designation has limitations.

Despite all the positive changes in the response of consumers and government officials to the lack of income, serious barriers remain: no access to banking services, government prohibitions and skepticism towards health care providers, etc.

In short, the name of the substance has not changed the mindset of all those who have the power to remove these barriers.

According to the numbers.

According to a Marijuana Policy Project analysis of legal marijuana markets in 32 states and Washington, D.C., all but one, the Massachusetts recreational market, were allowed to open during state closing hours.

The medical market in Massachusetts was declared substantial and continued to function, while recreational sales were allowed to start on the 25th. The month of May will resume.

Of those 33 markets, 28 explicitly stated that marijuana businesses were necessary (including MMJ’s market in Massachusetts), and three states closed but allowed marijuana businesses to continue operating without explicitly labeling them as necessary, MMJ said.

Arkansas and North Dakota did not implement a statewide lockout, so the main provision was challenged.

In Iowa, control measures were implemented in some areas, but a distinction was made between primary and secondary businesses, with cannabis businesses designated as primary.

Of those 33 markets, 18 allowed home delivery of marijuana before COVID-19, five added delivery in response to the pandemic, and 10 made delivery not an option, MPP said.

Of these 33 markets, 10 received traffic restriction and/or transit permits prior to the pandemic and 19 in response to the pandemic. Roadside pickup or a car was not available in four states.

And of these 33 markets:

  • 19 MMJ physicians allowed telehealth visits to be scheduled prior to COVID-19 (10 allowed telehealth for initial visits and chart renewals; 9 allowed telehealth for renewals only)
  • 11 authorized to assign MMJ physicians via telemedicine after the onset of the pandemic.
  • Arizona may not prescribe MMJ via telemedicine, while no information is available for Iowa and New Jersey.

the good faith of consumers

The name of the main thing has had the biggest impact on users, as evidenced by the increase in cannabis sales during the pandemic.

People finally understand what it is. It’s medicine, says Gary Santo, CEO of Tilt Holdings, a Phoenix-based multistate operator that also owns a major vaporizer manufacturer, Jupiter Research.

You only have to look at the demographics to see how many people come to the facility with something on their mind: joint pain, anxiety, difficulty coping with their condition. And I think it’s become very clear, especially in a pandemic, how important that is. … People see it a bit more as a drug now.

Hawkins, of the Environmental Protection Agency, was referring to the marijuana legalization bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last year: This substantial designation has helped legitimize cannabis as not only an important part of the state’s economy, but also incredibly important to patients and recreational users.

And that context certainly contributed to the efforts that we saw last year when the BOLE Act was passed by Congress.

State and federal government aid

Hawkins and other observers say the background clue played a role last November when voters in five states legalized recreational and medical marijuana through ballots.

Together, these states could sell more than $2.5 billion worth of medicinal and commercial cannabis annually by 2024.

In addition, Vermont lawmakers approved a recreational marijuana program last October. The program is expected to generate about $250 million in annual revenue by 2025.

Virginia lawmakers followed suit last month, approving an adult program that is more than five years behind its scheduled January 1 start date. January 2024 could bring about $1.5 billion in annual revenue.

At the federal level, a key provision advanced marijuana reform.

During the presidential debate, there was heated discussion about cannabis legalization, at least on the Democratic side, Hawkins noted. It didn’t happen in a vacuum.

She emphasized that cannabis is considered an essential commodity in the event of a pandemic. And that translated into every presidential candidate having something to say about cannabis, with most believing it should be legalized.

While the substance designation is appealing to consumers, regulators and some members of Congress, it has so far failed to convince federal officials to end marijuana prohibition in the states.

Naming a noun has not yet prompted Congress to take more moderate measures, including :

  • Banking reform for cannabis businesses.
  • The marijuana industry has access to the federal government’s wage protection program, which was designed to help small businesses keep their jobs during the COWID-19 pandemic.
  • Allowing VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis to veterans.

Even the name of the leader did not change the opinion of the major medical institutions.

In December, the American Medical Association sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposing the MORE Act, even though a group of doctors has supported bills that would expand medical cannabis research.

It was always a little frustrating to me because when you’re considered essential and you can’t take advantage of things that others in that category can claim, it was kind of a common sense dichotomy, said Geoff Bacino, a former federal banking supervisor and now a Washington-based consultant whose clients include marijuana companies.

While the substantive designation has made it easier for state politicians to advocate for legalization or liberalization of the rules, Bacino is less certain that it has changed opinion in Congress.

It might help them feel a little less inhibited, but in general I think most members of Congress, especially those who have been through the last few sessions of Congress, are pretty set in their ways, Bacino said.

The question is whether you can get legislation that encourages people to vote. I don’t know if this clue will change anyone’s mind, but it may make someone feel like they have a decision to make.

Omar Sasirbay can be contacted at [email protected].

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