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Buying weed in the age of coronavirus: Dispensaries tell recreational customers not to put medical patients at risk

Buying weed in the age of coronavirus: Dispensaries tell recreational customers not to put medical patients at risk

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Mission South Shore marijuana dispensary has wiped down its touch-screen product menus so many times in the past few days that the screens started to go a little haywire.

The dispensary is disinfecting surfaces more frequently, providing hand sanitizer and taking other precautions to quell the spread of the new coronavirus, which the World Health Organization deemed a pandemic on Wednesday.

The main concern at marijuana dispensaries are medical patients, many of whom have compromised immune systems and could be more susceptible to the disease caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19. Legal weed sales started Jan. 1 in Illinois, and dispensaries that still serve medical patients are also selling to hundreds of recreational customers a day.

“Bottom line is our medical customers are our most compromised … individuals here,” said Gabriel Mendoza, vice president of operations at Mission. If anyone thinks they might have COVID-19 or been exposed, “we … really just make sure they aren’t coming to the dispensary.”

Mendoza said the dispensary in the South Chicago neighborhood is willing to shut down or limit business only to medical marijuana customers, though it has not made that decision yet.

Since recreational marijuana went on sale in Illinois at the beginning of the year, dispensaries around the state have been inundated with customers. In Chicago, many stores have places inside for customers to wait.

But now officials are discouraging crowds from congregating. Parades, sporting events and other gatherings are being canceled, and an increasing number of businesses are telling employees to work remotely.

Cresco Labs started using a text-based check-in platform at its Sunnyside dispensary in the Lake View neighborhood Thursday, to cut down on interaction in the waiting area, spokesman Jason Erkes said in a statement.

The wait on Thursday afternoon was about one hour for recreational patients, according to the dispensary’s website.

Erkes said Cresco is evaluating every aspect of its business to maintain the health and safety of employees, customers and patients.

“We will be implementing social distancing strategies at all of our retail stores to ensure customers and patients always have access to their medicine and to be able to continue their daily wellness routines with as minimal personal interaction as possible,” he said in a statement.

On top of the concern for medical patients, marijuana stores are facing the same problem as other retailers during the coronavirus outbreak: When employees need to interact with the public to do their job, it’s not that easy to have them work from home.

Foot traffic at Dispensary33 in the Uptown neighborhood was slower than usual Thursday morning, said general manager Paul Lee. The dispensary is cleaning every hour, and employees are working to ensure everyone who comes in is practicing good hygiene, he said.

“The whole contraction and spread of the virus is what’s most scary for our shop,” Lee said. “To possibly be a point where a lot of people get it is what you don’t want to be.”

Dispensary33 sent an email to its customers earlier this week encouraging anyone with a compromised immune system to pre-order their marijuana products “to make sure your experience with us is as touch-free as possible,” or send a caregiver to pick up their order.

Under the state’s medical marijuana law, patients may register a caregiver with the state to buy cannabis on their behalf.

The email also asked recreational customers to wash their hands, cover their mouth when coughing and use the hand sanitizer the dispensary provided.

“If you are sick, please be responsible and consider the fact that a number of patients at our dispensary have compromised immune systems,” the email said. “If you are feeling really under the weather, maybe send a friend or wait a couple days to come shop.”

Other dispensaries are taking similar measures, including offering latex gloves to employees, increasing cleaning measures and instructing workers and customers not to come if they’re feeling sick.

Green Thumb Industries, which has seven dispensaries in Illinois, is performing deep cleans on its stores every day, spokeswoman Linda Marsicano said in a statement.

Marijuana company Verano Holdings has been telling employees to “be very aware,” said co-founder Sammy Dorf. The company has an ownership stake in The Clinic Effingham, which does medical and recreational sales.

“You have medical patients that are mixing with recreational” customers, he said. "At all times just try to be as sanitary as you can be. It might not be the best time to shake everybody’s hands.”

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