An L.A. Times article questioning Gov. Gavin Newsom’s vaccination plan for retail cannabis has the industry in a stir.

Particularly the use of educators in the headline as a point of comparison to cannabis has really turned heads. The argument is we don’t know what vaccination levels will have to look like in order to put someone back in a room with 20 little supercarriers trying to learn how to read every day, five days a week, while retail cannabis’s fastest-growing demographic is at-risk age groups.

Another knife in the side of advocates was how vicious it is to put “patients” in parenthesis when talking about the cannabis industry.

The L.A. Times now finds itself on the same side of the fence as Steve Bannon when talking about whether dispensaries using the pandemic to pull a fast one. Unlike the L.A. Times, Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute this week pointed to financial incentives and cronyism as the reasoning behind pot going essential.

“While some claim that cannabis dispensaries were truly as important as pharmacies, which also remained open during statewide lockdowns, other factors may have contributed to this decision. Whatever its medicinal and recreational benefits, cannabis has evolved into a nearly $21 billion industry that lobbies, pressures and rewards politicians who look out for it,” the GAI’s Cannabis Cronyism report read.

Erika Smith, the author of the Times article, had trouble understanding why cannabis workers moved to the front of the eligibility line when the state’s most vulnerable residents can’t even get vaccinated because of supply shortages. After approaching the piece with the mentality of using parenthesis to describe the sick, why should we be surprised at this level of understanding?

Why not double-check the number of people actually living a better quality of life prior to speculating on whether their “at-risk” existence validates the people serving them being put in a situation where they don’t have to worry about killing their customers?

Then what do you say to the young retail staff? A staff that so much of the time hails from the communities most directly impacted by the pandemic here in Los Angeles. These kids are chasing their dream in America’s fastest-growing industry, thinking they might be able to carve something out for themselves in whatever cannabis is to become in the years ahead. How do you tell them they’re not essential enough after putting themselves at risk for a year?

Personally, I’ve worked in a dispensary since the moment I landed in California in 2009, after four years of working on medical cannabis, decriminalization and access to financial aid for people with drug convictions while in college in New Hampshire. I showed up with a suitcase and started painting the dispensary before it reopened a couple weeks later. I’m still at the dispensary six days a week before I write in the afternoons. As I read the Times article after work, I thought about those hyper-personal experiences with sick people I’d witnessed just that day. The guard opening up the gate to let someone with a walker skip the socially distanced line, bringing a chair to the counter for someone else who can’t stand up while they pick out their weed – and this was just in three hours. The past decade of my life is filled with these little moments of human empathy. Essentially at the core of the argument is how much do we value the safety of the people who inspire those moments by just surviving to the next day much of the time.

One might argue the concept of painting in broad strokes with terms like “patients” in the west coast paper of record disenfranchises all the progress we’ve seen over the years, especially since Sanjay Gupta was informed CBD is a thing. Two little clicks of the keyboard questioning whether someone was really able to down that sandwich after chemo thanks to a joint, or get to sleep, or just live a more functional life in a little less pain while opioid-free.

Another thing leaving a bad taste in my mouth is questioning every person that walks in a dispensary as a whole. To say it’s not worth protecting the dispensary staff and the customers in the most peril because someone in better health may walk into the dispensary a bit more frequently to put the latest exotic in their next blunt is just sad.

The reason that person is walking in there is that we as a society have deemed it’s better to regulate cannabis than put people in cages for it. It’s a completely separate issue from the patients who come through the door and making the comparison is disrespectful to everyone involved. The patient because it’s argued they’re being used as a guise for rec market products, the healthy shopper because it’s insinuated that they’re impersonating the sick, and finally the dispensary who might be working very hard to keep their clientele safe by suggesting the extra precautions they’ve been taking since last March is just part of the “patients” act.

And these at-risk folks, be it age or preexisting condition, are certainly coming in. Maybe they’re coming in because they have trouble with the concept of a stranger bringing weed to your house, or the technology is beyond them and they’re scared to ask for help on the phone and look even older. Regardless, they deserve the right to be safe in this environment that’s been deemed essential.

Why are these seniors choosing cannabis for their medicine? Because it’s proven wildly effective. While the U.S. is still far behind on getting cannabis research in proper order, the ball is rolling elsewhere. A recent study of Israeli seniors using medical cannabis found that “after six months of treatment, 93.7% of the respondents reported improvement in their condition and the reported pain level was reduced from a median of 8 on a scale of 0–10 to a median of 4.”

It was also reported that six months after starting their cannabis treatment, 18.1% stopped using opioid analgesics or reduced their dose.

But we’re not claiming things went perfect. Researchers found the most common adverse events were dizziness (9.7%) and dry mouth (7.1%).

Now why in our right minds would we want to make COVID-19 the most dangerous thing for cannabis-using sick old people when it’s currently one in ten getting a head rush when they stand up after a joint or needing a glass of water?


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