Cannabis Business & COVID-19: What You Need to Know

Industry Anna Wilcox 3/18/2020

Cannabis businesses in different states face unique challenges amidst the COVID-19 outbreak; curbside pickup may not be possible when IDs need to be scanned, delivery is outlawed, and all sales need to be tracked using special software. And yet, in the midst of the impending pandemic, businesses are experiencing runs on cannabis like they've never seen before.

So, what are cannabis businesses supposed to do? In an effort to help you, your staff, your coworkers, and your customers stay safe and healthy, we've compiled this brief guide on everything you need to know about coronavirus and your cannabis business.  

Pictured: OSHA recommends wearing personal protective gear like disposable gloves, eyewear, and masks when handling products or disinfecting facilities after potential exposure to the novel coronavirus. 

Cannabis Business & COVID-19: What You Need to Know

COVID-19 is a flu-like virus that's here to stay. But, until health officials can create a vaccine and slow the spread of the virus, there's a lot of cleaning to do. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is the primary health authority responsible for controlling the viral outbreak. 

They do this by guiding the public, as well as states and local governments, on the appropriate outbreak response. Recommendations and mandates from the CDC will change as more information about the virus develops. In time, CDC recommendations may also change as the severity of the outbreak changes. 

Thus far, the CDC believes the most significant risk of contracting COVID-19 is from respiratory droplets, which spray outward as moisture leaves the mouth and lungs as an infected person coughs or sneezes. For this reason, health authorities recommend staying at least six feet away from others whenever possible. It may also be possible for a person to contract the virus by touching something that was also touched by an infected person and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. In fact, recent research suggests that the virus can survive in the air for several hours, and on surfaces for up to three days.

So, wash your hands! 

General Safety for Cannabis Businesses During COVID-19

Throughout this outbreak, the most important thing to do is to visit your local health department's website for the most up to date information on outbreak management in your area. Different cities, counties, states, and countries have individualized recommendations and interim rules to help contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

After reviewing local recommendations for your city and state, review the most recent guidance on the CDC website. In the United States, most local health departments defer to the CDC. The advice from the CDC and your local health departments will always be more comprehensive and up-to-date than the following overview, so please make sure to check the official guidelines regularly. In the meantime, we've compiled general guidelines and recommendations to consider when preparing your cannabis retail store, delivery service, or production facility for COVID-19. 

Retail Stores 

If your business is still open, one of the most pressing tasks in preparing for COVID-19 is to develop a plan and communicate that plan to all staff. If it's possible to stagger shifts, allow employees to work from home, or otherwise minimize social contact, then health authorities recommend doing so

Cannabis retail businesses should follow the same CDC protocols as any other consumer-facing business. The most important recommendations are to keep hands washed, surfaces clean, and to limit close contact with others. 

Precautions for Cannabis Retailers & Staff 

  • Follow local, CDC, and OSHA guidelines for workplaces.
  • Encourage sick employees to stay home. 
  • Send sick employees home immediately.
  • Encourage customers to preorder and pickup to avoid long lines and crowds. 
  • Ask customers to remain six-feet away from each other while standing in line. (Mark out spaces to stand if needed.)
  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water.
  • Cough into your elbow or a tissue instead of their hands.
  • Provide disinfectant wipes for employees to use to sanitize surfaces & door handles throughout the day.
  • Use gloves and avoid touching your face after handling paper money. 
  • Keep retail products in cases and avoid excess customer handling of the products. 
  • Do not allow customers to put their nose or mouth near the product when purchasing cannabis in retail stores. 
  • Request that your suppliers wear gloves when delivering products. 
  • Avoid sharing chopsticks and other utensils when weighing or handling cannabis.  
  • Consider pre-packaging cannabis products in a disinfected environment if products are not pre-packaged already. 
  • Do not lick hand-rolled pre-rolls to seal them.

If you cannot find hand sanitizer, you can make your own out of glycerine, hydrogen peroxide, and isopropyl alcohol. The isopropyl solution must be at least 60 percent alcohol, and the hydrogen peroxide solution must contain at least 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. You can find directions on how to make your own hand sanitizer from the World Health Organization here. (See here for a smaller batch). 

Delivery Services 

If your state allows cannabis delivery and you have the appropriate delivery license, encourage your customers to use your delivery service. In general, delivery is safer for both customers and staff alike. Delivery limits the exposure to crowds and may help limit the number of interactions your staff members have over the day. 

Precautions for Cannabis Delivery Services

  • Follow local & CDC guidelines for workplaces.
  • Stay home from work if you are sick.
  • Sick employees should go home immediately.
  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water.
  • Practice social distancing; stand back from customers during exchanges. 
  • Try to keep interactions with customers brief.  
  • Avoid shaking hands and hugging, if possible. 
  • Do not enter a customer's home, if possible.
  • Wear disposable gloves. 
  • Carry hand sanitizer. 
  • Avoid touching your face.

Production & Manufacturing 

Health officials in many cities have urged that all non-essential businesses close or limit service for the rest of March. But, this is no easy task for cannabis and hemp growers. Growing plants take constant care. If your cultivation or manufacturing facility is still open, consider the following basic precautions:

  • Follow local, CDC, and OSHA guidelines for workplaces and/or laboratories. 
  • Stay home from work if you are sick.
  • Sick employees should go home immediately.
  • Temporarily limit the number of employees who come into work to a bare minimum for operations. (The White House urges against gatherings of more than ten people.)
  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water.
  • Practice social distancing; stand back from other employees and retailers during exchanges. 
  • Wear masks, hairnets, aprons, and gloves when processing and packaging cannabis products. Personal protective equipment should be provided by the employer.
  • Sterilize work surfaces, door handles, and common areas daily to encourage a sanitary work environment.
  • Perform routine cleaning of your facility daily. 
  • Wash aprons, gowns, and work clothing after each use. 
  • Use hand sanitizer if soap and warm water are not available. 

What to Do if You Think Someone Has COVID-19

If a staff member shows symptoms of the novel coronavirus, the CDC recommends the following actions: 

  1. Kindly separate the suspected case from the rest of the staff and customers.
  2. If possible, provide the person with a facemask to limit others' potential exposure to respiratory fluids. 
  3. Ask the person to travel home and contact their primary caregiver and/or the local health department. 
  4. Ask all staff to wash their hands and avoid touching their faces. 
  5. Contact your local health department. 
  6. Temporarily close your facility for disinfection and deep cleaning, as outlined by your local health department.  

Coronavirus Cleaning Recommendations for Cannabis Businesses 

Right now, the CDC and (OSHA) recommend daily routine cleaning. This routine cleaning should include sanitizing commonly-touched surfaces and equipment, like countertops, scales, door handles, and shared devices. When cleaning, here are a few general tips:

  • Use products that feature an EPA-approved disinfectant label with claims against emerging viral pathogens. 
  • Read the instructions on the disinfectant carefully, especially regarding protective gear, concentration, and other safety products. 
  • Consider closing early to allow ample time to clean and sanitize surfaces after each business day. 
  • Consider sanitizing surfaces with disinfectant wipes multiple times throughout the day if you operate in a high-risk, high-traffic area. 
  • Offer customers hand sanitizer at the checkout counter or at the door. 
  • Provide lined trash cans and tissues for your customers to use. 

Disinfecting a Dispensary after COVID-19 Exposure 

In general, the CDC recommends the following disinfecting procedures if you believe that your business was exposed to COVID-19:

  • Wait for 24-hours after contamination (or as long as possible) to begin cleaning and disinfecting, but do not remain in the facility. Waiting may decrease the viability of the virus. 
  • Open outside doors and windows.
  • As essential cleaning staff to gown up in personal-protective gear (gowns, masks, protective eyewear, gloves.)
  • Disinfect surfaces, floors, door handles, and equipment with a bleach-water or anti-viral solution.
  • Carefully dispose of all disposable cleaning equipment and protective gear. Wear gloves while handling the trash. 
  • Wash all clothing after disinfecting the area. Do not shake out clothing before washing. 

Cannabis dispensaries, however, may want to follow additional disinfecting and cleaning procedures depending on the level of exposure and the overall setup of your business. If your cannabis products are not pre-packaged, for example, contact your local health department to find out if any open containers of products need to be disposed of and how to do so correctly. 

Please read the complete CDC webpage and contact your local health authorities if you believe that your business is at risk.

Where to Find More Information 

This guide offers only the basics. If you're concerned about your business or workplace and would like further advice on best practices during this trying time, please reach out to your local agencies and review the information provided by the following authorities:

Local Departments of Health 

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) directory tool can help you find the contact information for your local health departments. 

State Departments of Health 

If you are concerned that your business was exposed to COVID-19 or have general questions about the safety protocols in place in your state, you can find the phone numbers for state authorities on infectious disease here

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

As mentioned above, the CDC is the leading federal health authority that offers general recommendations to local governments and health providers. Review all updates on COVID-19 on their official site here

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Apart from your local health authorities, OSHA offers the most definitive guidelines on the best preventative practices for businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak. Read through OSHA's "Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19" here

Note: While we will update this guide as we learn more about COVID-19, please note that these recommendations are simple summaries intended to point cannabis businesses in the right direction during this state of emergency. Always defer to local and federal health authorities for official comments and recommendations. Have updates worth sharing? Please don't hesitate to leave a comment below. 

Challenging times lay ahead. But, instead of sitting idle, we want to help you learn new skills and grow in personal development. 

For the first time ever, take the Green Flower Fundamentals of Cannabis Online Certificate Program for free.* 

*Offer until April 30, 2020. 

 

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