A recent update to California’s COVID-19 Vaccination Policy ensures cannabis industry employees are eligible to receive the vaccine immediately.
First confusion for California cannabis workers
For the 40,000+ people employed in the state’s marijuana industry, the first few weeks of the California vaccine launch were one of confusion and uncertainty.
While cannabis industry workers were originally viewed as “essential” workers when coronavirus restrictions first became known in Spring 2020, the same clarity was not there when the California Department of Health (CDPH) first outlined the state’s vaccination strategy. Several representatives of the cannabis industry tried to get to the bottom of the confusion.
The United Cannabis Business Association reached out to Governor Gavin Newsome’s Vaccination Advisory Board in January, saying, “For the past nine months, industrial workers have provided essential medicines to thousands of Californians every day. . . Despite numerous health and safety measures instituted by employers at high cost, this work has been carried out with an inherent risk. “
Other industry leaders supported the cause and shed light on the need for COVID-19 vaccinations in the cannabis industry. David Spradlin, CEO of cannabis company Perfect Union, said, “Despite a global pandemic, the California cannabis industry has worked tirelessly to provide quality products in a safe manner. . . And unlike traditional retail outlets, many who visit cannabis dispensaries are also most susceptible to serious COVID-19 complications, including the immunocompromised and the elderly. I urge government decision-makers to explicitly include key cannabis workers in Phase 1B of the vaccine rollout to ensure the safety of our patients and staff. “
Despite calls for clarification and action, confusion continued. The CDPH spokesperson simply replied that the institution “would do [their] best ”to fix the problem and relink to the California vaccine website – the same source that created the confusion in the first place. However, concrete answers became apparent.
California confirms approval of vaccines for the cannabis industry
An updated COVID-19 vaccination policy released by the California Department of Health on Thursday, February 4th, announced that marijuana retail workers are now in Phase 1A of the rollout. While this new update only covers medical marijuana workers, the majority of California pharmacies serve both recreational and medicinal shoppers.
The update made it clear that cannabis employees who work in nearly every other sector of the industry – cultivation, production, storage, transportation, distribution – are included in Phase 1B of the plan. In the announcement, the CDPH reiterated its rationale for inclusion, saying, “Medical cannabis workers should be housed as needed … based on their designation in eligible essential workforce classifications.”
Even so, some California counties are already disregarding the guidelines.
San Diego Denies COVID Vaccinations for Level 1 Cannabis Workers
Jim Desmond, a member of the San Diego County’s board of directors, showed an immediate disapproval of the decision to give cannabis workers priority over law enforcement, firefighters and educators. In a video posted on his YouTube channel, he suggested that citizens’ inability to get vaccinated may be due to “they are competing with 20-year-olds who work in the cannabis industry. . . This is a terrible step by the state of California in putting young, healthy people ahead of people with high-risk, important jobs. That’s crazy.”
San Diego County appeared to be on Desmond’s side on the matter, announcing a policy change that contradicted the CDPH’s decision. In a statement on the cannabis industry’s vaccine eligibility, the county said, “While the state is bringing medical cannabis industry workers into Phase 1A, the county has decided to include this group in Phase 1B. . . [and] References to authorized cannabis workers have been removed from the county’s vaccination website. “
While Jim Desmond and San Diego Counties are not following state guidelines, there is a precedent for approving vaccines for the cannabis industry. Just last month, Maryland gave its marijuana workers priority as vaccine recipients – including those in Phase 1A along with other health care providers.
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