This article was written by Gaspard Le Dem and originally published by Outlaw Report.
It’s been a brutal year for DC companies. Amid stringent coronavirus restrictions, store fronts across the district faced a new socially distant reality, allowing them to quickly adjust their business models or go under. Some found ways to deal with it, but many were forced to shut their doors permanently. At least 375 companies have closed in DC since officials announced the first pandemic lockdowns in early 2020. This emerges from a current balance sheet by WAMU.
Now that the number of coronavirus cases is nearing new lows, commercial activity in DC is returning to a sense of normalcy. On May 21, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser lifted most of the remaining restrictions on businesses, including capacity restrictions, hours of operation, and types of activities.
The pandemic posed significant challenges for the fledgling medical cannabis industry in DC as companies looked for ways to admit patients without exposing them to the risk of a potentially fatal disease.
But it also had its silver lining as a wave of emergency regulations gave growers and pharmacies more freedom to run their businesses.
The most profound change came in October when DC Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) took over DC Health’s medical cannabis program, an agency many criticized for slowing the growth of the industry.
ABRA immediately took a more business-friendly approach and issued a number of changes to the emergency rules that allowed pharmacies and growers to adapt to the pandemic.
ABRA also gave pharmacies the go-ahead for cannabis products to be delivered straight to people’s front door, as well as roadside pickup outside of the store fronts. A month later, the agency was selling cannabis to non-governmental patients. This was a major boost to the industry that was previously limited to DC cannabis card holders.
Then, in March of that year, ABRA simultaneously removed limits on the number of plants growers could grow, allowed pharmacies to hold classes and demonstrations, and empowered schools to administer cannabis to qualified students.
Meanwhile, the DC Council has passed a temporary bill opening the cannabis industry to formerly incarcerated entrepreneurs and is now considering a bill to increase the number of pharmacy licenses from eight to 16.
Cannabis entrepreneurs say ABRA’s deregulation flash played a huge role in keeping the industry alive during the pandemic. As of this week, none of DC’s eight pharmacies or seven grow centers have had to close.
Linda Greene, owner of Anacostia Organics, a Southeast DC pharmacy, told The Outlaw Report that her business is now “stronger than ever” as DC begins reopening.
“The pandemic allowed us to put some of the mechanisms in place that we had long tried, like home delivery, roadside collection, and pre-ordering,” she said.
While many businesses – restaurants, clothing stores, hotels – barely got along after a sharp drop in sales, Greene said her pharmacy had actually grown.
“Our business grew immediately and I had to hire additional staff,” she said. “While other businesses closed, we kept DC residents busy.”
However, she says that her pharmacy’s success wasn’t just due to regulatory change – it required hard work from employees and a willingness to change.
“Businesses always have to adapt,” she said. “I am proud of my staff who have put themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19 to ensure our patients have the medication, advice and friendliness they need during this pandemic.”
Greene says she is now looking forward to tourism returning to the district and serving cannabis patients from other states.
“Since it is nationwide illegal to cross state lines with any form of cannabis, many medical patients will depend on legally licensed medical cannabis dispensaries like Anacostia Organics to get their medication while visiting our city,” she said.
Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn, who runs the Takoma Wellness Center pharmacy in the northwest, hopes customers will return to his store in person soon as most now prefer roadside collection or home delivery.
“We would like to see a return to people who are comfortable around others,” he said.
Like Anacostia Organics, Kahn’s business has flourished despite coronavirus restrictions.
“We maintained steady growth throughout the pandemic,” he said.
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The Outlaw Report
The Outlaw Report is an independent online news agency that provides readers with fair and credible coverage of cannabis news and guidelines in the DMV. With a growing pool of local reporters, The Outlaw Report focuses primarily on cannabis news that affects communities and regulated markets in Maryland, DC and Virginia. In addition to the cannabis news, we cover local developments related to industrial hemp, CBD, and other drug legalization efforts (like psilocybin mushrooms).