Maryland Cannabis Employees Eligible for Vaccine, Qualifying As Essential Healthcare Workers

Maryland cannabis industry employees are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine during phase 1A of Maryland’s distribution program, qualifying as healthcare providers and essential employees. 

According to a Jan. 11 notice released by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC), anyone who works in the cannabis industry that is registered with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission as a cultivation, processing, laboratory or dispensary employee is eligible to receive the vaccine. 

“On January 1, 2021, the Maryland Department of Health issued Amended Directive and Order Regarding Vaccination Matters (MDH 2021-01-01-01). This amended directive clarifies that the ‘COVID-19 vaccine shall be administered to individuals according to the State’s prioritization requirements, as laid out and updated in its vaccine prioritization guidance or bulletins,’” the notice reads. “Maryland will distribute the vaccines to five different priority groups based on relative risk of exposure or developing serious illness. The State is currently in Phase 1A, which includes the following priority groups: Front line hospital staff and healthcare workers; Nursing home residents and staff ;Law enforcement and firefighters, EMS; All licensed, registered and certified health care providers; Correctional health care staff and officers; Front line judiciary staff Medical cannabis agents who hold active registrations with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.”

The medical cannabis industry was deemed essential in Maryland last year and cannabis businesses have remained open with relatively little interruption since the start of the pandemic. 

Dispensary employees work with a large elderly population and patients who use cannabis to treat a wide variety of sometimes chronic ailments. Budtenders work directly with patients at high risk for COVID-19 and while some Maryland dispensaries continue to conduct only curbside transactions, others are allowing patients to come inside for budtender consultations. Oftentimes medical cannabis patients require the specialized knowledge of a budtender to recommend a product best suited for their needs which is complicated by phone/online ordering. 

Phase 1B of vaccine distribution began Jan. 18, expanding eligibility to people over the age of 75, residents of assisted living facilities, education workers, those with developmental disabilities and childcare providers. Those who were eligible in phase 1A are still able to receive their vaccine.

Cannabis employees who are interested in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine can find their nearest distribution site at coronavirus.maryland.gov. Access to the vaccine, MMCC’s notice says, “is subject to…the supply of the vaccine and…any additional appointment requirements or other restrictions established by a COVID-19 vaccine administration site.”

The cannabis industry has been relatively resistant to pandemic-related financial hardship with 2020 sales projected to double from $242 million in 2019 to $450 million in Maryland alone, according to the MMCC’s annual report. The amount of patients registered to purchase medical cannabis in Maryland nearly doubled between July 2019 and July 2020, increasing from 54,939 to 102,459. 

A recent study by Vangst, Leaflink and Flowhub about the state of the cannabis industry in 2020 reported cannabis sales experienced a massive two-week spike in March as consumers panic-bought products while America went into lockdown during the early stages of the pandemic. Since then, nationwide cannabis sales have stayed relatively stable even as dispensaries pivoted to curbside pickup, touchless transactions and delivery service to meet social distancing requirements.

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