Cannabis dispensaries in San Francisco were allowed to reopen on Tuesday after city officials determined that they are essential businesses that should not be subject to closure during the ongoing shelter-in-place order. The San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) had ordered cannabis retailers to close on Monday along with other businesses deemed non essential as the city struggles to cope with the spreading coronavirus pandemic.

Under the shelter-in-place order, most businesses were ordered closed for three weeks, although essential businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies were permitted to stay open. The order was adopted regionally and has now been issued in eight Bay Area counties.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said on Tuesday evening that cannabis retailers would be considered essential and allowed to reopen.

“The Department of Public Health today clarified that since marijuana has medical uses, dispensaries will be allowed to operate as essential businesses just as pharmacies are allowed to do,” Breed said during a press conference at City Hall.

San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney had called for the change and announced the decision on Twitter. 

“SFDPH has reversed their position,” he wrote. “We know cannabis has medicinal value for so many people and should remain open. They’ll be open for delivery and pick up.”

Customers Stocking Up

North of San Francisco in Sonoma County, which is also under a shelter-in-place order issued on Wednesday, dispensaries were permitted to remain open but were forced to complete transactions outside or via home delivery. At Mercy Wellness, owner Brad Levine said the dispensary had developed a plan to handle pickup orders.

“We’ll have traffic control and we’ll have them come through, and pass by a few tents we normally use for festivals,” said Levine.

“This is new for everyone and it’s a lot to deal with,” he added. “You’re locking yourself up in the house for two weeks and people are going to go a bit crazy stuck in the same space.”

Mercy Wellness customer Teri Schouten said that she had been to the shop two days in a row to stock up on the medicine she uses for pain relief.

“It’s like toilet paper right, everyone just wants to make sure,” she said. “I’ve had four back surgeries, I used to take opiates and I’ve also been a nurse for 30 years and this is definitely my medication.”

Activists Urged Nationwide Action

Cannabis activists have called on state and local officials nationwide to designate dispensaries as essential businesses if emergency closures are ordered. Steph Sherer, the founder and president of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), said that the group would remain vigilant throughout the novel coronavirus crisis.

“In light of the current state of COVID-19 and the CDC’s actions, Americans for Safe Access has been monitoring the situation to make sure that medical cannabis patients are not forgotten,” said Sherer in a press release. “We want to ensure that dispensaries are seen as essential businesses that will remain open for patients. We applaud states that have already put emergency precautions into action.”

The release noted that steps have been taken to ensure dispensaries can remain open in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. To help keep patients updated, ASA has also created a page for people to share how businesses are responding to COVID-19 across the country.

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