(A version of this story first appeared on MJBizDaily.)
As the U.S. eases out of the coronavirus pandemic, marijuana, hemp and CBD retailers are slowly adjusting their store protocols for customer-mandated mask-wearing, social distancing and other requirements.
Many still require customers – particularly those who haven’t been vaccinated – to wear masks or adhere to other COVID-19 protocols, according to an informal survey by Hemp Industry Daily and MJBizDaily.
But plenty of retailers have dropped such requirements, as states and cities have eased their coronavirus-related guidelines for businesses. It’s a quickly evolving situation that has retailers pivoting.
“Just like that, our policies have changed,” Thomas Winstanley, vice president of marketing for Massachusetts-based Theory Wellness, said in an email to MJBizDaily.
“Starting Saturday (May 29), we WILL be abiding by the state policies of allowing customers and patients to visit us without masks and without social distancing. We will still be requiring Theory staff to wear masks, but customers will not be asked to do so,” noted Winstanley, whose company operates three cannabis shops in Massachusetts and another three in Maine.
The change is a significant coronavirus-era shift from the company policy of requiring all customers to wear masks while visiting their six stores.
Theory Wellness is only one example of how marijuana retailers across the country have been pivoting on oft-controversial coronavirus restrictions for shopping at stores, which have included limiting customer numbers indoors, minimum social distancing spaces, and mandatory mask-wearing.
Policies vary by state
While many retailers in California, for instance, still require both masks and social distancing for customers, that’s far from true across every state market with operational marijuana or hemp-derived CBD stores.
According to an informal online poll of 163 retailers conducted recently by Hemp Industry Daily and MJBizDaily:
- 50% still require both masks and social distancing for customers to enter their stores.
- 13% require masks but no social distancing.
- 17% have a cap on the number of customers allowed in a store at any point.
- 20% have no COVID-related restrictions.
Multistate operators in particular say navigating fast-changing mask mandates across jurisdictions has been a logistical nightmare.
But it’s one they’re used to after more than a year of juggling shifting health regulations through the pandemic.
At CBD American Shaman, a Missouri-based hemp and cannabinoid retailer with 365 stores in 38 states, most of them franchises, store managers have been sent signs for locations in jurisdictions with loosened mask mandates.
“We want everyone to feel comfortable,” said Vince Sanders, CEO of American Shaman CBD.
“We have signs up saying masks are now optional, but if you would prefer masks, please say so and we will happily put masks on to serve you.”
The policy offers flexibility for his franchisees and store managers, who are authorized to maintain mask requirements if they so choose, even in jurisdictions that have abandoned mandatory mask-wearing.
“We told everyone, ‘If you’re more comfortable keeping the mask mandate, that’s great, we have no problem with that,” Sanders said.
“Some people aren’t ready yet, or they’re immuno-compromised. And that’s fine.”
In the conservative state of Oklahoma, Denise Mink’s Med Pharm dispensary just outside of Tulsa never had a mask mandate, even at the height of the pandemic, because no such order was given by the state’s governor or by her city, Broken Arrow.
“Nobody believes in COVID, so even though we wore masks, the county we’re in…never made it a thing that you had to wear masks,” said Mink, who added that she and her staff were constantly encouraging patients to use the dispensary’s drive-thru window instead of entering the store.
“We wore them, our staff wore them, but if we had (a mask requirement), our business would have tanked.”
Mink’s staff is still giving out masks to patients as an option, and vendors have returned to her store to provide product demos for MMJ patients, as life is slowly easing back into normalcy.
New York is another state where mask mandates have largely been lifted, but CBD retailer Steven Phan, founder of Come Back Daily, said his staff will continue to wear their masks during business hours.
“Although the whole team is vaccinated, we choose to make sure that all of our customers feel safe upon shopping at our store,” Phan said.
“If a customer expresses that they feel safe without a mask, each individual staff member can adjust their mask if they feel safe as well.”
He added that although the rules are changing quickly, it’s still within a company’s best interest to remain mindful of consumers’ safety concerns.
States mixed on masks
In many states, there’s a mixture of policies, often depending on the city.
In Illinois and Nevada, for instance, some retailers are taking customers at their word if they say they’ve been vaccinated and letting them enter stores without wearing masks.
But unvaccinated customers are still required to wear masks.
That’s a policy shared by one of the largest marijuana stores in the world – Planet 13 in Las Vegas – and a neighborhood recreational cannabis shop in north Chicago, Dispensary33.
Dispensary33, however, also runs a medical marijuana dispensary in a different Chicago location where masks are still required for all customers to protect immune-compromised patients who also might be visiting.
Planet 13 is still asking customers to be mindful of social distancing and is limiting the number of people in the store to 80% of capacity.
The retailer also is requiring masks for unvaccinated visitors, but it’s basically on their honor, said the company’s vice president of marketing, David Farris.
“We’re not going to follow them home or to get their shot,” he said. “We inform them of our policy and what the state’s policy is, and it’s almost an honor system to adhere.”
In North Carolina, vertically integrated hemp products retailer Franny’s Farmacy began allowing vaccinated customers to shop without a mask as of May 20, according to CEO Franny Tacy.
But, like so many other retailers, Franny’s Farmacy is asking unvaccinated customers to keep wearing masks, Tacy noted in an email to Hemp Industry Daily.
Kristen Nichols can be reached at [email protected].
John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected].