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Pot Shots: Retail Cannabis Workers Can Now Be Vaccinated, But Some Aren’t Happy

In Culture
LINE JUMPER: State officials added retail workers who serve medical marijuana patients to the first group eligible for the Covid-19 vaccination after industry leaders sent a letter asking for consideration.

LINE JUMPER: State officials added retail workers who serve medical marijuana patients to the first group eligible for the Covid-19 vaccination after industry leaders sent a letter asking for consideration.

When the California Department of Public Health announced this month that retail cannabis workers would be eligible for the first round of Covid vaccines in the state, reactions were predictable.

KABC, the L.A. talk-radio station, went with this headline on its web site: “You know who else is getting vaxed before you? Pot store workers. POT STORE WORKERS.”

It’s the craziest damned thing they’d ever heard, over there at the station that features radical right-wing, conspiracy-theorizing hosts like Dan Bongino and Ben Shapiro. Presumably, the “you” they’re addressing there isn’t a pot-store worker. Nor, we guess, is it a pot-store customer, though it’s the customers whom the Health Department’s directive is mainly meant to protect.

The pot industry is, not surprisingly, for the new guidelines. A group of 20 companies sent a letter to the Health Department in January to “implore decision makers to include the cannabis essential workforce under Phase 1B of the state’s rollout.” Those petitioners included PLUS Products in San Mateo, Dark Heart Nursery in San Leandro, Megan’s Organic Market in San Luis Obispo and 17 others from across the state.

The department, to the surprise of many, went one better: retail cannabis workers serving medical patients, it declared, were “health care” workers, and so they would get a Phase 1A designation: the very top of the list, eligible for vaccination now.

Then came the outcry from right-wing propagandists and other prohibition-minded types, as well as the more-valid skepticism of others. Specifically, the rest of the cannabis industry–growers, distributors, manufacturers–got the 1B designation.

The letter from the cannabis companies won some hearts and minds by arguing that cannabis is officially designated a medical product by the state and noted that the state government declared cannabis an “essential” industry at the beginning of the Covid outbreak.

It’s a strong argument, but it doesn’t quite wash for critics who say shortages of the vaccine have stalled others, including minorities, poor people, teachers and cops from getting vaccinated. Why, then, should cannabis workers get bumped up?

“Inoculating people who sell cannabis, even if it is medicine and even if they are health care workers, isn’t the way to eliminate these pressing racial disparities and achieve vaccine equity,” Los Angeles Times columnist Erika Smith wrote last week.

The argument that pot is medicinal, and that many customers of dispensaries are there because they’re suffering from some ailment that pot can relieve, might hold water if there weren’t shortages, she wrote. But, Smith concluded, “it all comes down to priorities. And I’m still trying to figure out what ours are in California.”

As has been the case from the beginning with medical marijuana, it’s not always easy to tell when cannabis is truly “medical.” Some argue that pot is always medical: that is, that people who use cannabis recreationally are really medicating themselves, perhaps to relieve stress.

But if one’s definition is narrower than that, it’s hard to call a healthy 22-year-old who likes to get high to play video games a medical patient. But because nearly all of California’s more than 1,200 cannabis dispensaries serve medical patients as well as recreational consumers, there’s no way to screen out any retail workers from getting their vaccine.

All cannabis retail workers need is a work badge and a recent pay stub, and if their home county is vaccinating, they can jump to the front of the line.

In its own letter to the Health Department in January, the United Cannabis Business Association, which represents retailers, not only made the case that pot dispensaries are health care operations, it also noted the economic (and therefore political) force that the cannabis industry has quickly become.

“Our businesses and workers have proven not only to be essential in providing legal, regulated and safe cannabis medicine but also in bolstering the economic needs of many local and state governments as a strong tax revenue base throughout these challenging times,” the letter stated.

Of course, the same could be said for the tech industry and Hollywood, but nobody’s demanding that coders or production assistants should be allowed to jump the vaccine line.

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