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Relief Provided - And Needed - By Cannabis Industry In COVID-19 Era

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Associated Press

In this Aug. 1, 2018, photo, marijuana is on display at 420 Sahara Wellness in Las Vegas.

Everyone’s stuck at home. Anxiety about the coronavirus is high. So people are looking to take the edge off. 

And for some, that includes marijuana. While some medical experts say smoking it might hurt those who have COVID-19, many users swear by its relaxing effects. 

Coronavirus: What you need to know

But getting the marijuana can be an issue. Despite being granted essential-business status, dispensaries aren’t open for curbside pickup. And delivery service has required big adjustments. 

So dispensaries have asked the Clark County Commission to consider allowing drive-thru purchases.

Last week, after approving delivery service for packaged alcohol, the Clark County Commission agreed to weigh in on drive-thrus during its next meeting. 

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However, Tick Segerblom, the Clark County Commissioner who championed the legalization of recreational marijuana during the 2016 election, told KNPR's State of Nevada that it is up to the governor to decide whether to allow dispensaries to set up drive-thru service under the emergency shutdown order.

Segerblom said it is unlikely that he'll make that change right now.

"I know that every day seems like an eternity for these businesses that are going under but the reality is I'm sure he's got bigger things to worry about right today," he said, "He's really worried about people dying and whether we have enough respirators and enough PPE and the last thing he's going to worry about how people get marijuana."

Although, Segerblom agreed that it is an important medicine for some people and a valuable escape for others.

There is one dispensary that has a drive-thru operation. NuWu dispensary in downtown Las Vegas is on Paiute tribal land, which means it is subject to tribal laws. Segerblom said there is a line of cars every day at the dispensary.

He said the no-drive-thru rule was established in 2017 when the recreational cannabis industry got started in Nevada. Las Vegas Metro Police pushed for the rule over concerns about impaired driving.

Segerblom said it is unlikely that Metro would feel the same now after its seen there are no problems at the NuWu dispensary's drive-thru.

Riana Durrett, the executive director of the Nevada Dispensary Association, said dispensaries in Nevada are struggling with a massive drop in sales. Some have seen as much as a 50 percent drop, she said.

The issue in Nevada is that a lot of sales were from tourists, which are now gone. Another problem is unemployment, as fewer people will be willing to spend money on recreational marijuana.

One of her biggest concerns is that people will return to the black market to get their cannabis.

"That is really going to be a struggle to come back and bring people back off the illegal market because it's not that they stopped consuming -- they just go back to easier ways to get it," she said.

In addition to those problems, Durrett said that unlike other small businesses, the marijuana industry cannot get any relief from the federal government. Marijuana is still illegal under U.S. law, which means businesses cannot get the help available right now.

"They are not able to avail of themselves of any of the federal stimulus relief that is going to keep some businesses afloat, during this time," she said, "They can't take any of the SBA loans that are offered. They will not be eligible for payroll tax credits. This is on top of not being able to take any of standard business deductions that they previously not allowed to take."

Plus, costs for businesses have gone up because changes to sick leave and family leave requirements. Durrett also noted that setting up deliveries has cost dispensaries money.

Another problem with delivery is it is cumbersome with specific rules about amounts of product drivers are allowed to carry, what kind of work cards are required of drivers, and the equipment, such as lockboxes, the drivers must have, Segerblom said.

Durrett believes even when the governor's shutdown order is lifted, it will be some time before the cannabis industry in the state is back to where it was. She is confident that any new regulations that come out of the outbreak will be handled easily by industry.

While Nevada's marijuana industry is suffering, Bruce Barcott, a senior editor for Leafly.com, says other states are seeing an increase in sales, depending on it is regulated there. 

For instance, Florida only allows medical marijuana and it has seen an increase in sales. On the other hand, Massachusetts has both recreational and medical but decided that only medical is an essential service. Barcott said the state is seeing a $2 million-a-day dip in marijuana sales.

Overall, Barcott said there's been an increase in the sale of marijuana flower or buds, but pre-rolled joint sales are down, while edibles and beverage sales are up 20 to 30 percent.

"Right now, it's not necessarily a concerning thing because we're all looking for ways to lower our stress, lower our anxiety right now, and help our immune system and whatever you can do to boost your overall health and really your mental wellbeing," he said.

Guests

Tick Segerblom, commissioner, Clark County Commission; Riana Durrett, executive director, Nevada Dispensary Association; Bruce Barcott, senior editor, Leafly.com

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