coronavirus essential businesses

Coronavirus, Essential Businesses, and the Cannabis Industry

Last updated 4/15/20

Are dispensaries considered essential businesses during the coronavirus pandemic?

During the current coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic, many government agencies have implemented stay-at-home or “Shelter in Place” orders, and are only allowing essential businesses to stay open. As part of those orders, some initially categorized cannabis and dispensaries as non-essential, but quickly reversed the order due to panic-buying. Many jurisdictions, like Denver, ultimately recognize dispensaries as essential, and are treating recreational dispensaries like liquor stores, allowing them to operate as long as they practice extreme social distancing. Other jurisdictions have mandated that both med and rec dispensaries operate through pre-orders with curbside pick up or solely via delivery. 

As part of our commitment to our clients, and to the entire industry, we have added all of the Emergency COVID-19 Guidelines (as issued by state and local regulatory agencies) to our existing audit content. Additionally, we plan to release the federal CDC Guidelines for COVID-19 in a stand-alone audit feature, available to every client, in the next day or two.

Unlike many traditional industries, those of us in cannabis know we have an even more onerous responsibility to remain compliant during these times of crisis. Our regulatory analysts are monitoring state and local jurisdictions on a constant basis, so we’ve consolidated all of the official emergency guidelines and regulations for each state in this blog post. We will keep updating this post, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with basic information and news on state announcements.

Note: If your licensing agency or state government has not released any regulations or guidelines yet, it is highly encouraged that, at a minimum, you take the necessary measures provided by the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) on how to protect yourself, your employees, and your clients. Stay safe and make sure to wash your hands!



Licensing Agency: Arizona Department of Health Services

No official statements or guidelines have been issued specific to cannabis operations in the state.


Licensing Agency: Arkansas Department of Health

No official statements or guidelines have been issued specific to cannabis operations in the state.


Licensing Agency: The Bureau of Cannabis Control, California Department of Public Health, California Department of Food and Agriculture

Gov. Newsom issued an executive order saying that cannabis retailers and workers supporting cannabis retail are considered essential businesses and can stay open during the Stay at Home order.

BCC is leaving most rules to local jurisdictions and requiring licensees to submit for relief under section 5038 as necessary. Licensees that continue to operate must follow the CDC Interim Guidance.

The CDPH and CDFA have also released guidelines for “workers supporting cannabis retail” in regards to the executive order.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs released an order stating that, beginning on April 5th through April 30th, all essential businesses are required to follow CDC guidelines. 

San Francisco

The San Francisco Department of Public Health issued a statement allowing cannabis dispensaries to continue to operate as essential businesses, while practicing social distancing and other public health recommendations.


Licensing Agency: Marijuana Enforcement Division 

Gov. Polis stated that Regulated Marijuana Businesses can stay open but are required to implement “social distancing” and related measures consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

On March 30th, the MED released new guidelines:

  • Medical and Recreational dispensaries are both allowed to conduct transactions inside the licensed premise with the following guidelines:
    • Licensees are still required to implement Social Distancing Requirements pursuant to state and local orders.
    • Permitted methods of payment include cash, check, debit or credit cards, including electronic payments.
  • Medical and Recreational dispensaries are both allowed to conduct transactions outside the licensed premise with the following guidelines:
    • Patients and consumers may only pick-up and purchase pre-ordered Regulated Marijuana outside the Licensed Premises. No orders outside the premise can be accepted.
    • Permitted methods of payment include check, debit or credit cards. No cash.
    • Licensees providing pick-up and purchase services outside the Licensed Premises shall provide patients and consumers clear instructions including, but not limited to:
      • Instructions for online and telephone orders and payment;
      • A clear description of the designated location for pick-up;
      • Information regarding how a patient or consumer will be notified when an order is ready for pick-up and/or payment; and
      • Any other information a patient or consumer reasonably needs to know in order
        to utilize pick-up and payment services in a compliant and efficient manner.
  • Licensees should also consider implementation of additional security measures in connection with transactions outside the originally designated Licensed Premises, including but not limited to installation of security cameras, employment of security personnel, and addition of security lighting.

Read the full guidelines and prohibited conduct here.

Video surveillance of all cannabis transfers to patients is required. View all guidelines here.

Local Jurisdiction Requirements:

Regulated Marijuana Businesses should also consult with their relevant local jurisdiction regarding any applicable local public health orders and local requirements or restrictions.

Read the full guidelines from the MED here


Licensing Agency: Connecticut State Department of Consumer Protection

Gov. Lamont issued an executive order saying that medical marijuana dispensaries and producers are considered essential businesses and can stay open during the Stay at Home order.


Gov. Carney issued an executive order saying that medical marijuana dispensaries are considered essential businesses and can stay open during the Stay at Home order.


Licensing Agency: Florida Department of Health: Medical Marijuana Use

An Emergency Order was enacted to temporarily allow qualified physicians to use telemedicine only if they are recertifying a patient who has an existing certification issued by the qualified physician. Unless extended, the Emergency Order will only be in effect for 30 days. Meaning, qualified physicians may not use telemedicine to certify patients after April 15, 2020. For more information, visit the Department of Health’s website: COVID-19 Update.


Licensing Agency: State of Hawaii, Department of Health: Medical Cannabis Program

Gov. Ige issued an executive order saying that medical cannabis dispensaries are considered essential businesses during the mandatory stay-at-home order and can remain open. A list of licensed and open dispensaries can be found on the official government website.


Licensing Agency: Department of Financial and Professional Regulation

The states announced cannabis dispensaries can allow patients and caregivers to purchase medical cannabis outside the limited access area but they must adhere to the following protocols: 

  • The exchange of cash and product must take place on the dispensary’s property or on a public walkway or at the curb of the street adjacent to the dispensary. Dispensaries may not deliver cannabis to a patient or caregiver’s home. 
  • The patient or caregiver’s card must be scanned prior to purchase and the purchase must be tracked in the state traceability system. 
  • The dispensary may take measures to protect agents and patients alike by not requiring patients and caregivers to physically hand their medical cannabis ID card to agents to be scanned, wearing gloves when handling cash, and giving employees frequent breaks to wash their hands thoroughly. 
  • Cash must be taken into the dispensary after each transaction. 
  • Security must be present for outdoor exchanges. 

Read the full announcement here. The IDSPR has extended curbside pickup for medical marijuana patients until April 30th.

Additionally, the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation has released a guideline for state cannabis dispensaries on sanitary practices and social distancing enforcement during the pandemic.  


Gov. Pritzker issued an executive order saying that medical cannabis dispensaries are considered essential businesses during the mandatory stay-at-home order and can remain open. 


Gov. Mills issued a stay-at-home order for the state. Later, the Govorner released a memorandum explaining that caregivers and dispensaries are considered essential bussinsses based on their classification as “other medical facilities”. 


Licensing Agency: Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission

As of March 19, medical cannabis businesses continue to operate in the state. However, patients and caregivers are encouraged to limit the number of dispensary visits, and businesses are encouraged to conduct home and on-site deliveries, to limit potential exposure for employees, patients, and caregivers.

The Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has implemented the following measures:

  • Authorized telehealth for written certification renewal.
  • Suspend requirements for patient signature at point-of-sale.
  • Suspend high-risk transmission activities, including deli-style sales and sniff jars.
  • Extend agent registrations set to expire until 30 days after the state of emergency is terminated.
  • Authorize on-site delivery (e.g. to parking lots).
  • Encourage businesses to temporarily reduce or stagger staff, alter business hours, implement enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures, and utilize mobile or order-ahead features, delivery or onsite delivery, or similar methods of reducing overcrowding.
  • Encourage businesses to post Maryland Department of Health COVID-19 signage.

Read the full guidelines here.


Licensing Agency: Cannabis Control Commission

The Cannabis Control Commission released an administrative order, allowing Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MTCs) to conduct curbside pickups with the following requirements:

  • The exchange must happen to a vehicle located in the parking area of the MTC or to an individual at the entrance to the MTC. All payments must be done inside the MTC. No cash exchanges in the parking lot or outside the MTC.
  • As of the effective date of this order (3/28), MTCs may conduct pre-sales by phone or electronic means with a Registered Qualifying Patient or Caregiver prior to the transfer of Marijuana and Marijuana Products curbside. 
  • In conducting phone or electronic sales, MTCs shall adhere to the statutory requirements regarding patient privacy. If they are unable to do so, MTCs shall notify the Registered Qualifying Patient or Caregiver of the risk to patient privacy and obtain a waiver. 
  • MTCs must verify patient eligibility for product sale with the MMJOS system prior to processing the transaction.
  • Scheduled appointments and social-distancing practices consistent with state and federal guidance1 are encouraged.

Read the full guideline here.

All licensed Marijuana Establishments (MEs) and MTCs conducting adult-use retail have not been deemed essential and therefore, shall close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers, and the public as of 12:00 noon on March 24, 2020, and shall not re-open to workers, customers, or the public before 12:00 noon on April 7, 2020.

  • To the extent that the Essential Services Order deemed medical-use MTCs and Colocated Marijuana Operations (CMOs), which conduct dispensing, cultivation, product manufacturing, and transportation, as essential, they are not subject to this Cease and Desist Order.
  • As part of the Essential Services Order, adult-use MEs and MTCs conducting adult- use retail at non-colocated premises are considered to be non-essential and therefore, are subject to this Cease and Desist Order.
  • Independent testing labs (ITLs) providing required testing to medical-use operations are not subject to this Cease and Desist Order.

Read the full state response here.

The Cannabis Control Commission encourages licensees to review their standard operating procedures to ensure consistency with the Governor’s State of Emergency declaration, restrictions on gatherings of 25 or more people, and continued adherence to the State Sanitary Code.

The commission also urges licensees to consider designating specific hours to protect at-risk groups, requiring employees to stay home if/when they feel sick, mandating mobile or pre-ordering, strictly limiting the size of lines with six feet between patients, caregivers, and customers, cleaning surfaces every 30 minutes or sooner as needed, and wearing personal protective equipment at all times.


Licensing Agency: Licensing and Regulatory Affairs: Marijuana Regulatory Agency

In response to Gov. Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order, the MRA has allowed licensed provisioning centers and adult-use retailers to temporarily sell or transfer marijuana to a patient, caregiver, or customer with expired driver’s license or government-issued identification cards as well as patients or caregivers who present a registry identification card that expired within the preceding 60 days for home delivery and curbside.

The MRA has limited marijuana sales to curbside or delivery only. In regard to curbside pickup, customers must remain in their parked vehicle in the parking lot of a licensed provisioning center or adult-use retailer.

The MRA specifically encourages home delivery if the licensee is approved for it. The MRA is making every effort to review, process, and approve requests for delivery within 24-48 hours. There are specific requirements for delivery services and procedures. The MRA offers resources to help licensees in the form of a sample delivery checklist and daily log. Temporarily, the MRA is allowing the use of home delivery for patients and customers whose residential address may not be the address identified on their state issued identification card.

Customers may complete an order including payment over the internet or at time of receiving the product. All other requirements must be met, including but not limited to, identification verification, purchasing limits, and tracking in the statewide monitoring system.

Licensees must comply with all social distancing requirements for staff, including limiting workers and activities, as well as encouraging other mitigation practices recommended by the CDC and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.


Licensing Agency: Minnesota Department of Health

Gov. Walz issued an executive order and saying that Medical marijuana dispensaries are considered essential businesses and can stay open during the Stay at Home order. 


Licensing Agency: Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services

No official statements or guidelines have been issued specific to cannabis operations in the state.


Licensing Agency: The Department of Public Health and Human Services: Medical Marijuana Program

The Department of Public Health and Human Services along with the state’s Medical Marijuana Program, have released recommendations on what licensed businesses should do in the wake of the pandemic until official rules are adopted. Guidelines include:

  • Eliminating communally handled products, including ‘sniff jars’ or other items that multiple patients or employees may touch.
  • Maintaining social distancing. Licensees should find ways to limit the number of patients in their dispensaries and develop practices that limit employees’ interactions with cardholders and the public in general.
  • Enacting stringent, frequent cleaning procedures to disinfect all surfaces regularly touched by employees, patients, or other visitors.
  • Utilizing home delivery for patients if allowable in your locality. Please note some local jurisdictions do not allow this, so check your local regulations. 

Read all recommendations and guidelines here.   


Licensing Agency: Nevada Department of Taxation

The Department of Taxation states that licensed cannabis retail stores and medical dispensaries are required to shut down. Legal cannabis sales will continue but will be available by delivery only. NO curbside pickup.

Cultivation facilities, production facilities, distributors, and independent testing facilities will be allowed to continue operations while following strict social distancing guidelines as part of the necessary cannabis supply chain operations.

New Hampshire

Licensing Agency: New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services

The DHHS has announced that “Alternative Treatment Centers” (ATCs) are allowed to stay open but have added guidelines, including:

  • All ATCs have reduced hours.
  • Patients are strongly encouraged to call ahead before going to their ATC for the most current information.
  • All ATCs are strongly encouraging patients to pre-order. Check with your ATC to see if phone or online ordering is available.
  • “Curbside” pickup of orders has been approved and is in the process of being implemented at all the ATCs.
  • Telehealth. The Governor’s executive order permits telehealth for health care service delivery. The requirement for an “in-person” examination for the purposes of certification and recertification for the therapeutic use of cannabis has been suspended. The required assessment may be conducted via telehealth.

See the full guidelines here.

New Jersey

Licensing Agency: New Jersey Department of Health

The Department of Health announced that Alternative Treatment Centers (ATCs) are allowed to serve patients on the curbside in their vehicles and reduce all caregiver registration fees to $20.

The announcement also removes the requirement for ATCs to conduct in-person consultations for new patients, unless requested. Consultations can be done over the phone instead of in-person.

All ATCs will be responsible for submitting curbside dispensing procedures to the Department and notifying their local municipal governments and police departments prior to implementing any changes.

New Mexico

Licensing Agency: New Mexico Department of Health: Medical Cannabis Program

The Department of Health posted a response stating that licensed medical cannabis producers are essential services and can stay open during the pandemic. Other highlights in the response include:


Due to the potential staffing shortage caused by COVID-19 and the protective measures implemented, the Medical Cannabis Program is temporarily suspending the requirement for the NM Criminal Background Check for new staff members until the submission of applications for LNPP relicensing (due on June 30, 2020). All other employee application documents must still be submitted.

Curbside Pickup:

As previously distributed to the LNPPs and Dispensaries, the Medical Cannabis Program recommends using pick-up, curb-side, or delivery service. Pick up and curb-side options do not require an amendment from the LNPP, however, delivery service does require an amendment in order to ensure policies are in place to ensure the safety of patients, staff, and safe delivery mechanisms. Once these are submitted, the License and Compliance staff are reviewing them as soon as possible in order to ensure safe access options for patients.

Read the full statement here.

New York

Licensing Agency: New York Department of Health

The Department of Health has allowed Registered Organizations (ROs) to stay open as an essential business. Highlights include:

  • ROs may dispense from the doors of the dispensing facilities provided that you maintain compliance with all current laws, rules and regulations including, but not limited to dispensing on camera, checking the PMP as required and validating registry ID cards.
  • To help facilitate social distancing, the Department directs that until April 16, 2020, registered organizations who have been approved to deliver medical marijuana products to the homes of registered patients and designated caregivers may expand delivery services statewide without seeking the Department’s prior written approval.
  • Registered Organizations approved for home delivery should encourage patients to utilize this service whenever possible. 
  • When conducting deliveries, it is recommended that the RO’s drivers follow the guidance below: 
    • Wear masks and gloves while making deliveries 
    • Hand sanitize or wash their hands after each delivery 
    • Encourage patients to use their own pens when requiring a signature for the product 
    • If not, all pens should be sanitized before changing hands (whether it be between a RO personnel or between personnel/consumer). 
    • Additionally, ROs may confirm receipt of the delivered medications by the registered patient or caregiver through a phone call, text or email, in lieu of getting a signature. Such confirmation should be documented and retrievable upon audit.

See full document with more guidelines here.

North Dakota

Licensing Agency: North Dakota Division of Medical Marijuana

No updates specific to the industry yet.


Licensing Agency: State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy

The Board has announced that they are temporarily allowing Medical Marijuana Dispensaries to conduct transactions “outside the dispensary” similar to curb-side pickups. An example would be at the entrance of the dispensary or to a person at a walk-up or drive-thru window. There are specific requirements that operators must adhere to if they decide to use this type of sale method, so be sure to read the complete guidelines here.

The Board has announced that Medical Marijuana Dispensaries are deemed an essential business and can stay open during the stay at home executive order. The State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy is requiring licensees to follow CDC protocol of social distancing and highlights a need to establish a process for older adults, individuals with compromised immune systems, and other patients who are at-risk to be served first as well as to monitor all staff for sickness. Read the full guidelines here.

The board now authorizes the use of a birth certificate as acceptable identification for patients with expired IDs. Adults and minors may also use birth certificates to register as medical marijuana patients and dispensaries must allow adults and minors to use birth certificates/social security cards as a form of identification to enter and purchase medical marijuana.


Licensing Agency: Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Agency

The OMMA has announced that Medical Marijuana businesses are considered essential services and will not be required to close at this time. Curbside pickup for Dispensaries are allowed. However, dispensaries must ensure all applicable rules are followed, including proper license verification, monthly reporting of the sale & packaging requirements. The law does not allow for delivery to patients or caregivers.


Licensing Agency: Oregon Liquor Control Commission

The Liquor Control Commission has allowed “Retailer on-site pickup,” meaning a business can deliver a product within 150 feet of the business, such as a curbside or a parking lot. Business hours must be between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.


Licensing Agency: Pennsylvania Department of Health

The Department of health has released a notice which includes the following actions/advice:

  • Allowing curbside pickup in vehicles on the facility’s property.
  • Removes the cap that limits the number of patients assigned to one caregiver.
  • Eliminates background checks for caregiver renewals.
  • Allow remote consultations for medical marijuana practitioners.
  • Allows medical marijuana to be dispensed for up to 90-day supply (was 30 days).

Rhode Island

Licensing Agency: Rhode Island Department of Health

Gov. Raimondo issued an executive order saying that “compassion centers” are considered as essential businesses and can stay open during the Stay at Home order.


Licensing Agency: Utah Department of Health

No official statements or guidelines have been issued specific to cannabis operations in the state.


Licensing Agency: Vermont Department of Public Safety

Gov. Scott issued an executive order saying that pharmacies (which dispensaries operate as), are considered essential and can remain open during the Stay at Home order.


Licensing Agency: Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board

The Liquor and Cannabis Board has released their guidelines for cannabis retail establishments. Guideline highlights include:

  • Employees must be screened for coronavirus symptoms each day and excluded if symptomatic. 
  • Proper hand hygiene and sanitation must be readily available to all attendees and employees. 
  • Ensure a clean and sanitary environment. 
  • Have employees disinfect frequently-touched surfaces such as doorknobs, tables, desks, and handrails. 
  • CDC provides detailed environmental and disinfection recommendations.

Read the full guidelines here.

Washington D.C.

Gov. Inslee issued an executive order saying that dispensaries fall under “medical facilities” and are considered essential bussinesses during the Stay at Home order.

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