Industry Status Amidst COVID-19 

On Tuesday, March 17, Governor Sisolak made an announcement for the closure of non-essential businesses in Nevada. California’s Governor has announced the same for his state. And consumers are wondering everywhere, where do I get my legal weed? 

The concept that only essential services should remain open – such as fire, police, transit, and health care services, in addition to businesses that provide food, shelter, or social services for disadvantaged populations, included businesses such as pharmacies, grocery stores, drug and convenience stores, banks and financial institutions, hardware stores, and gas stations. And yet, the essential vs non-essential status of dispensaries or other components of the cannabis supply chain seemed to remain an open question.  

The Nevada Health Response Center released the Nevada Health Response COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Initiative. The initiative was sent from the Governor’s office following his announcement on March 17. It stated that “licensed cannabis stores and medical dispensaries should only remain open if employees and consumers strictly adhere to the social distancing protocol.” Given this, it would seem that if a dispensary can manage to maintain the 6-foot social distancing rule then they would be permitted to stay open. This appears to be what Governor Sisolak implied and the Nevada Health Response Center directly stated. It is how the “shelter in place” rules in California are being interpreted as well, given that “workers supporting cannabis retail” were included in Governor Newsome’s Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers list. But you would be wrong. 

On Friday, March 20, Sisolak made an emergency declaration requiring the aforementioned nonessential businesses to close. Once again, there was no explicit mention of recreational or medical marijuana businesses being forced to close. What was made clear, however, in the following days, via Section 5 of Directive 003 issued by the Governor’s Office was that dispensaries would need to close their storefronts and become delivery-only, with no curbside pickup option. This came as a shock to many Nevadans when they heard dispensaries were being closed just several days after the Nevada Health Response Center announced dispensaries would be able to stay open, given they could maintain 6-foot social distancing. Only 38 dispensaries in the state allow for delivery and many of these dispensaries are located in Las Vegas. Dispensaries were forced to scramble and get vehicles inspected by the Marijuana Enforcement Division before they could begin delivery. This process took up to a week for some dispensaries, meaning recreational and medical users were left without product for that time.  

What is also left as somewhat of an open question is how cultivators and processors in Nevada’s cannabis space will continue to be permitted for operation under the emergency directive. While in California, workers themselves have been identified as essential to the ongoing operation of cannabis commercial activity, in Nevada, it is only by implication at this point that we may presume those positioned in the supply chain outside of retail itself will be permitted to continue business as usual.