As COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, continues to ravage the globe, it’s become impossible to find anyone who hasn’t been affected by the pandemic. Today New York City, the area hardest hit in the United States, begins the first steps toward reopening. Elsewhere in our country and around the world, there are some signs of operations resuming and the latest data on infections is encouraging. But we all continue to feel the shocks of COVID-19 to our system.
Schools have shifted to online, as have the businesses that didn’t close entirely. Citizens everywhere were confined to quarantine for months and are still restricted from life as they once knew it. Loved ones are lost in unbearable ways. And yet for the cannabis industry, glimmers of hope remain. In many states with legal medical programs, dispensaries have been declared essential businesses. Still others are finding new channels to reach their audiences during the crisis, and countless people are pitching in to help where they can. We asked some of the top experts in their fields to comment on how COVID-19 is changing the industry.
Please remember to practice social distancing, wear a mask in all public areas including when walking outside, and wash your hands! We all must do our part to look out for each other and keep flattening the curve.
ELIZABETH CRAMER ERNST is one of the most prominent medical experts on cannabis in the East Coast, a Nurse Practitioner for over twenty years and founder and CEO of Hamptons Medi Spa. She testified in the early days of the pandemic:
“[I’m] super busy taking care of COVID-positive patients with asthma and pneumonia in the community, trying to keep them out of hospital and at home with nebulizer meds around the clock. [I] keep checking on them because the mucus turns to glue… [As] a pulmonary expert on Long Island, a lot of people, especially kids, depend on me and it has not been easy finding respiratory meds in the pharmacies and trying to make do with what we can find. All of New York City emptied into the Hamptons and cleaned us out of food and cleaning supplies and we [had] no PPE [personal protective equipment]… So it’s rough but we take it day by day… I tried to get help for weeks… I’m just trying not to get it because I am 58 with asthma and I will die.
In Rhode Island they [were] going door to door to tell New Yorkers to self quarantine and stopping people with New York [license] plates. We don’t have enough doctors to live in these rural areas in the winter, much less in a pandemic! We have to have people like me who are good at managing asthma and pulmonary issues doing so. People are arriving at ERs at such an advanced stage of respiratory compromise and the cascade of events that happen with hypoxia and total breakdown of all systems makes them meet hard to manage…
I have done home management in lieu of hospitalization for decades because we have no pediatric hospital on the East End, so I do intensive concierge-style medicine and use [pulse oximeters, electronic devices to measure the levels of oxygen in patients’ blood that can be used remotely] and apps to keep people home. Then I can transfer them, in an orderly fashion, for admission… if they get hypoxia or oxygen drops under 90. Secretions and mucus are a big problem and some mucolytics help, but all respiratory meds [are] hard to find. esp in East End. Thank God [New York Governor Andrew] Cuomo set up disaster mitigation so they’re not all coming out here with the population density we have.”
MARY JANE GIBSON, writer, actress, and co-host of Weed + Grub podcast:
“The coronavirus is disrupting the cannabis industry in every imaginable way, from manufacturing and distribution to cannabis events and tourism. The bright spot is that sales are robust as people stock up on product to self-isolate with. I’m making a ton of infused recipes with my Weed+Grub co-host Mike Glazer — we’re getting through quarantine together with plenty of weed, while we record fun eps to entertain ourselves. We’re the Quaranteam.”
ZOE WILDER, publicist and founder, Zoe Wilder PR:
“The obvious is that experiential is shifting to online. Otherwise, for the industry as a whole, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when factoring market dynamics across an industry with such varied phases of growth and regulation at the state and local levels. One thing is certain: the legacy of this industry is rooted in community, strength, and resolve.”
JAMIE PEARSON, CEO, Bhang Corporation:
“I think this is real and very concerning. More than usual, we are swimming in information and misinformation. The virus poses two threats… Obviously death for many Americans is [a] real threat and the impact on the American and global economies is already devastating. My hope is for Americans to stand together and recognize we must each participate seriously in ‘flattening the curve.’ Wash your hands and please stay home!
Requiring ‘non-essential’ businesses to close, while necessary to keep the virus from spreading, will have the unintended consequence of forcing many business owners to shut their doors for good. According to the American Payroll Association, 74% of all American employees are living paycheck-to-paycheck with no money in savings. That is scary. Those people aren’t working and they won’t be paying rent or mortgages. They won’t be making car payments. They won’t be putting money into the economy in any form. That ripple effect will cause landlords to miss payments. Banks will be repossessing cars and foreclosing on houses. Giving a reprieve on foreclosures in April [as the government did] is asinine. Those payments were missed 120 days ago. The relief will need about 6-10 months to play out before we know what is really necessary. The aid and stimulus packages are critical to basic survival for the majority of our population. Knowing 74% of workers are one paycheck from bankruptcy and based on historical precedent, I expect the rich to benefit the most from stimulus dollars and poor communities to be utterly devastated. Unless the government puts significant dollars into the hands of our citizens directly, this outcome is unavoidable.
My thoughts are focused on gratitude and finding serenity in the chaos. The serenity prayer is my mantra. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I’m grateful to be from Montana, where social isolation is normal in the rural community where I was raised. Self-reliance is a way of life here. I’m incredibly grateful to be in the cannabis industry. In the industry, we know cannabis is recession-proof and [Monday 3/15/2020] being the highest sales day in the history of legal markets (including any 4/20) was no surprise to any of us. The market will recover when this blows over, just like we watched the market recover from the crash in 2008 and from the Great Depression. Eventually the cycle will play itself out, but the people who are invested in cannabis will be celebrating sooner. My parents always taught me in times of severe economic trouble there are a few things you should always have in plentiful supply (besides basic provisions.) Those things are precious metals, alcohol, guns and ammo, and cannabis. Check, check, check and check!”
IN MEMORIAM: CHARLOTTE FIGI
The cannabis industry lost one of its youngest icons to COVID-19 on April 8, 2020. Charlotte Figi, a Colorado resident, became the face of the CBD movement at five years old when her parents discovered that the cannabinoid oil helped treat her seizures and symptoms from Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy with which she had been diagnosed as a baby. Wheelchair-bound and on a feeding tube, Charlotte had not responded well to any other treatment until her parents reached the hemp grower Joel Stanley, who cultivated a special CBD oil for her use. After a week on CBD, miracles occurred: Charlotte could be taken off the feeding tube, her seizures cut down dramatically, and she was soon able to walk and talk. The story made national news, influencing CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta to change his mind and advocate for CBD as treatment for epilepsy. In 2011, Stanley and his family founded Charlotte’s Web CBD, named after the extract he bred for the young patient. Today Charlotte’s Web (CW) is the leading CBD producer in the United States, and the initial strain that changed Charlotte’s life has treated thousands of patients. This young woman’s survival ensured that the entire world would begin to see cannabis as the medicine it is.
Her death, at age thirteen due to complications from coronavirus, is noted as one of the darkest days the cannabis community has yet faced. The Stanley brothers paid tribute to her with the following statement:
“Charlotte was ten feet tall and carried the world on her shoulders. Inspiring is a lacking word, as are courageous and vivacious and strong and beautiful. She was divine. She grew, cultivated by a community, protected by love, demanding that the world witness her suffering so that they might find a solution. She rose every day, awakening others with her courage, and with that smile that infected your spirit at the cellular level. Her story built communities, her need built hope, and her legacy will continue to build harmony. She was a light that lit the world.”
For updates and information about the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit cdc.gov.