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Illinois Cannabis Industry Deemed 'Essential' During Coronavirus

Patch logo Patch 3/21/2020 Jonah Meadows
a plant in a garden: Cannabis businesses in Illinois are exempted from the "stay at home" order limiting non-essential business, travel and activities. © Shutterstock Cannabis businesses in Illinois are exempted from the "stay at home" order limiting non-essential business, travel and activities.

CHICAGO — Illinois marijuana businesses are exempt from Gov. JB Pritzker's "stay at home" executive order to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. The order limits non-essential activities, banning public gatherings of more than 10 people and mandating social distancing.

The order, which takes effect Saturday afternoon, requires all businesses, other than those deemed essential, to stop all but minimum basic operations — allowing employees to keep working from home and maintaining the security of the business' property.

Cannabis dispensaries and licensed cannabis cultivation centers are included under the exemptions for agriculture, food and beverage production.

State regulators also have loosened restrictions on the sale of medical cannabis, normally only allowed inside designated areas in dispensaries. Under a temporary order allowing curbside delivery, licensed patients can purchase cannabis outside stores.

"Our top priority is to minimize the risk of and protect as many people from exposure to

COVID-19," Toi Hutchinson, the governor's senior cannabis adviser, said.

"These steps prioritize that critical objective, while also ensuring medical patients have access to

the medicine they need."

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Pam Althoff, executive director of the trade group Cannabis Business Association of Illinois, said dispensaries and cultivators are also following guidance to enforce social distancing and practice strict sanitary practices.

"We're trying to be extraordinary proactive, we're a highly regulated industry to begin with, we deal with medically fragile, vulnerable patients and we want to ensure that not only are we caring for our patients but we're also caring for our employees, many of whom are also patients themselves," Altoff said.

Home delivery of cannabis remains banned, and curbside delivery is limited to medical cannabis cardholders or their designated caregivers under certain conditions.

"We have not yet discussed any further accommodations with regard to the coronavirus situation," Althoff said. "We've been talking daily about what might happen as we anticipate worst-case scenarios but all of those things are kind of a menu of options, and no one's pulled the trigger on any of them yet."

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At least eight Illinois cannabis dispensaries have suspended the sale of recreational marijuana in response to the coronavirus outbreak, according to the Illinois Department of Financial Protection.

Others have increased online ordering capabilities to cut down on wait times and crowding among customers. Lines of people have been spotted gathering outside some of the fewer than 50 marijuana retailers open in Illinois since January.

While some cannabis dispensaries reported disruptions in their supply chain, Altoff said she expected the product of cultivation licenses issued last fall to be entering the market soon and doubted there would be any shortages. The industry's biggest bottleneck remains its workers, she said.

"If there's a concern, it's the same concern that most people are looking at," she said. "Ensuring that we have full staffing capabilities."

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