More than a year after the coronavirus pandemic emerged in Wuhan, China, and brought the world to its knees, scientists have successfully developed a COVID-19 vaccine. However, demand for the vaccine far outweighs the supply, forcing governments to implement vaccination programs in phases and vaccinate their populations based on urgency and priority. In the United States, essential workers are among those given first priority, and cannabis companies have argued that because as their employees are on the frontline, they ought to be vaccinated as well.
When the pandemic broke out, the cannabis industry was categorized as essential and was authorized to continue operating amid the stay-at-home orders. Although some states allowed safety measures such as online ordering, curbside pickups and online delivery, cannabis workers were, by and large, interacting with hundreds of customers every day. Not just random customers, but a high proportion of elderly and immunocompromised individuals who are at a greater risk of infection and suffering severe symptoms as well.
With vaccination efforts beginning, cannabis companies across the supply chain have begun taking steps toward encouraging their employees to get vaccinated — without mandating it. According to federal regulators, however, these companies are within their rights to do so. However, with the exception of Maryland, most states still haven’t given cannabis workers priority status for COVID-19 vaccinations. This is despite the fact that nearly all states with legal cannabis markets have deemed cannabis essential, putting cannabis workers and the often vulnerable customers they interact with at constant risk of infection.
Last week, Maryland informed more than 130 cannabis companies that their employees would share priority status with health-care workers in Phase 1A of the state’s vaccination program. Companies in other states haven’t been so lucky. For instance, 20 cannabis companies in California recently signed a letter asking lawmakers to include their employees in phase 1B, which will see people working in emergency services, food and agriculture, critical manufacturing and other priority sectors vaccinated.
The letter, which was sent to the California Department of Public Health, argues that some dispensaries in the state deal with more than 1,000 customers per day, most of whom are immunocompromised and elderly. Not only does not vaccinating cannabis workers reduce production despite booming demand due to staggered shifts and social distancing, but it also puts employees and a lot of vulnerable individuals at risk of severe coronavirus symptoms.
Some legal experts advise against requiring employees to get vaccinated, even though it’s allowed. Companies should instead make accommodations for employees who don’t get the vaccine. Other experts, including Ian Meklinsy, an attorney in Rothschild’s Labor and Employment Department, say employers should make vaccination a requirement for their employees and ask them to provide proof of vaccination.
Meanwhile, many cannabis firms are making it big selling products that are free from THC. For example, The Alkaline Water Company Inc. (NASDAQ: WTER) (CSE: WTER) sells CBD-infused drinks as well as water in both bulk packaging and single-serve volumes.
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