Cannabis and Coronavirus: Adjusting Against a Backdrop of Social Unrest

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The first week of June arrived in America as states struggled to “reopen,” with retailers and other types of vendors taking cautious steps toward the second phase of Federal and state officials’ plans for kick-starting the U.S. economy.

At the same time, the death of African American man George Floyd on May 29 ignited nationwide protests against police brutality and supporting Black Lives Matter, among other civil rights groups.

There have been protests in more than 120 American cities, and President Donald Trump has threatened military action in urban hot spots including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and in front of the White House in Washington D.C.

Peaceful daytime protests have been disrupted by violence and looting and continued into the night in some locations, despite emergency evening curfews. Some crowds of looters, who raided high-end apparel outlets and big box stores also targeted cannabis dispensaries—retailers in California were particularly hard hit.

With economic woes from the pandemic already weighing heavily on businesses big and small, owners with boarded-up shops now must contend with damages and losses due to the protests.

Still, cannabis industry businesses continue to stand up and support causes, with no end in sight of the needs and demands of this unprecedented time in history.

Canadian public relations technology company Agility PR Solutions tracked trends in its latest report, News Releases: The PR Tool You Need Right Now, which said companies and brands were increasingly dependent on news releases to distribute information during the coronavirus crisis. Agility PR is a subsidiary of INNODATA INC.

“We’ve seen a substantial increase since January in the number of news releases sent by our clients and the amount of [public relations] outreach targeted at journalists,” Agility PR Solutions Chief Executive Officer Martin Lyster said in a press release. “We’ve also seen a shift in what our clients are communicating about. Currently, just over half of all the news releases our clients are sending are related to the coronavirus.”

“Our data continues to show month over month increases in news release volumes around COVID-19. Our clients know the benefit of disseminating information quickly in critical situations. News release distribution services are an effective and affordable PR tool, especially right now,” Lyster added.

Efforts to collect signatures for a petition that supports proposed cannabis legalization legislation in Montana will bring COVID-19 public health protocols to the petition campaign. Montana voters also may sign the petition online.

“As our state reopens for business, we must also reopen for democracy,” nonprofit cannabis advocacy group New Approach Montana Political Director Pepper Petersen said in an announcement. “Our signature drive will allow Montana voters to exercise their constitutional right to a ballot initiative in a safe and responsible way.”

Former Director of Montana Department of Public Health Joan Miles has endorsed the petition campaign’s health standards, which includes personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation protocols for staffers and single-use pens.

“As a public health professional and former director of DPHHS, I am encouraged to see the concentrated effort that New Approach Montana is putting forth to protect the health of Montanans as it moves forward with its signature gathering, New Approach Montana is closely following the governor’s phase one recommendations for return to public life in light of the COVID pandemic, so their signature drive looks different than it did before the pandemic. The protocols they have put in place to lessen public risk are very considerate,” Miles said.

Pandemic protocols mean a new way of doing physical business for global retailers in every market. Cocoon Technology offers a unique option for dispensaries seeking to minimize personal contact between customers and staff.

“CocoonPod kiosks will be installed at all Thrive Cannabis Marketplace locations in Nevada starting in June with several additional Regional and National MSOs to follow. Cocoon is actively developing integrations to the most prominent ERP systems in North America allowing for maximum market penetration across all legal jurisdictions,” the company said in a press release. The modular kiosk allows customers to conduct their entire transaction contact-free.

In Massachusetts, brand producer Curaleaf re-opened its locations in the state, with pandemic public health standards and guidelines in place, including social distancing and use of face masks.

Adult use cannabis retail stores in Massachusetts were not declared “essential” in the initial response to the pandemic, though medical cannabis dispensaries were declared essential services and allowed to do business.

“We are pleased that our three adult use dispensaries in Ware, Oxford, and Provincetown are among the first of Commonwealth businesses allowed to re-open on May 25, and we appreciate the Governor and Lt. Governor’s decision,” President of Curaleaf Massachusetts Patrik Jonsson said in a press release.

“We’re very much looking forward to resuming serving our customers with the quality products they have come to rely on, and also getting our people back to work. We expect sales to be brisk as a result of pent up demand, and we are working closely with the Cannabis Control Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Health to comply with all guidelines surrounding our reopening,” he added.

Mendocino, California-based producer Flow Kana has kicked off its Dirty Money Campaign, which supports federal banking reforms for the cannabis industry. Due to continued federal prohibition, U.S. cannabis industry businesses operate largely on a cash-only basis.

According to Flow Kana’s announcement, the COVID-19 virus can live on surfaces like paper money for up to four days.

“Forcing cannabis businesses to operate on a cash-only basis used to be a public safety risk, but now our health is at risk, too,” said Flow Kana’s Vice President of Community Relations Amanda Reiman.

“Every day cannabis consumers, many of them medical patients and dispensary staff, are forced to handle cash as essential businesses. The SAFE Banking Act (H.R. 1595) would allow cannabis businesses to work with federally insured banks giving consumers the ability to pay for their cannabis with credit/debit cards and other forms of cashless payment. It would also open financial support opportunities for small business loans for the mom-and-pop shops we all love,” Reiman added.

The company has created a template that allows campaign supporters to automatically send a letter to their congressperson, encouraging banking reforms.

CBD producers and hemp-based businesses also have contributed where they can, with some producers pivoting to provide essential products like hand sanitizers and PPE.

Florida-based CBD producer Veritas Farms added infused hand sanitizer to its product roster. Available nationwide on the company’s e-commerce site, the moisturizing formula contains 70 percent isopropyl alcohol, Aloe Vera extract, and vitamin E oil, and comes “packaged in an eight-ounce squeeze bottle.” The blend was “developed in partnership with and produced locally by The Miami Distilling Company, a subsidiary of Toast Distillers, Inc.

“We are excited to add hand sanitizers to the product offerings on our online platform and we will continue to look for opportunities to partner with organizations to bring our community the products they need,” Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Veritas Farms Alexander M. Salgado said in a release.

CBD product producer ZuRI CBD introduced three new hand sanitizers to its retail line, available online in the U.S.—a traditional alcohol-based with vitamin E formula; gel and spray formulas made with six moisturizing, citrus essential oils; and its unique microSURE hand sanitizer that purportedly kills germs on contact and protects users for up to eight hours.

ZuRI collaborated with best-selling author Dr. Ian Smith, who endorsed the new formulas and said, “We all know that hand-washing with soap and water is critical during this pandemic, but quality hand sanitizer is also important for those who don’t have soap and water readily available.

“Millions of people are desperately searching for sanitizer and cannot find any. I wanted to be part of the solution, and I’m extremely pleased to team up with ZuRI, which not only produces high quality CBD products, but are now helping to fill the void in producing a premium hand sanitizer,” Dr. Smith said further.

Marijuana Company of America (MCOA), and its California subsidiary, hempSMART pledged a portion of sales generated by its online “shop to support” website feature will go to provide donations and food to “hospital workers, first responders, doctors, and nurses, to hospitals in Los Angeles County at Saint John’s Health Center and UCLA Medical Center Santa Monica.”

“We are proud to be able to show our appreciation and support to first responders. It is one of the company’s core values to give back to the community,” said MCOA Chief Executive Officer Jesus M. Quintero.

Pioneering CBD producer Charlotte’s Web showed appreciation for those who are fostering or have adopted a dog during the COVID-19 crisis.

Their free giveaway promotion offers new pup parents a free “Charlotte’s Web’s ‘Welcome to The Family’ gift box—an $89.00 retail value—filled with products for our canine friends including full-spectrum CBD-infused products to support pets in transition from shelter to new home, including Charlotte’s Web Chews, Full Spectrum Hemp Extract Drops, and Canine Hemp Infused Balm,” as described in a press release.

Charlotte’s Web also will launch the giveaway promotion with a donation to animal rescue nonprofit Last Chance Rescue.

“We’re kind of a dog crazy and loving work culture here at Charlotte’s Web. It was a natural for us to want to find a way to show our gratitude to those caring individuals who adopt or foster shelter dogs,” Charlotte’s Web Chief Executive Officer and President Deanie Elsner said.

“We launched our line of pet-friendly products last year and have seen through sales growth how much consumers care for their pets with a variety of health needs,” Eisner added.

Those interested in receiving a gift box can register at the Charlotte’s Web site.

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