Sun, Jun 7, 2020

 “Don’t pass joints, don’t pass bowls. Use common sense.” Grandma Cat Jeeter

Washington Cannabis activists Grandma Cat Jeeter and Jim MacRae are holed up in their respective homes and not taking visitors for the foreseeable future.


It’s not that they hate company, but as medical Cannabis patients in the high risk group, they’re well aware that the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak that has been growing around the Seattle area could kill them. 

Both have decided it’s safer to stock up on necessities and shelter in place for the time being, rather than risk exposure. But the spread of the disease is not just a risk to them. And those in the Cannabis industry are also warily watching cases spread, worried about the larger impacts.

“I’m in the 10 percent kill rate,” said Jeeter, a medical Cannabis provider and activist in Washington who has rheumatoid arthritis and other complications. “I have my Analytical 360 pick up box outside, and people can get what they need there and leave the money for me – although I’m going to have to go to Paypal I think because money can also spread disease.”

The all-cash nature of the Cannabis industry is putting dispensaries on high alert. Cash is dirty stuff – often containing fecal matter and even cocaine in small amounts – and it’s just as easy for something like COVID-19 to hitch a ride on it and spread. 

That’s why High End Market Place, a dispensary in Vancouver, Washington, has hand sanitizer by every register and a new policy of wiping every surface down several times a day with cleaner, according to Gareth Kautz, one of the owners of the store.

“We are spending a lot of time wiping down surfaces all over – and the menus as well,” Kautz said. “Good thing we stocked up on cleaning products before this all started to heat up.”  

He’s also telling employees that are sick to stay home, even if it means short-staffing. But he’s worried that if the virus spreads rapidly, he may not have enough staff available to keep the shop open.

“If you get an outbreak, a small shop like this, we’re in trouble,” Kautz said. 

His cash counting machine has also become a scary device, because when it counts it blows dust and germs from the cash into the air. 

In Seattle, the effect of spreading cases has had a greater impact on Cannabis dispensaries.

Bob Ramstad, owner of OZ. dispensary in the Fremont district, said as schools and businesses started to shut down, so did traffic to his shop. But in the last day or two things shifted a bit, and now he’s seeing some people come in to stock up in case they get locked in their homes.

“It’s been weird,” Ramstad said Friday. “In general our sales during this outbreak have been down quite a bit – 20 to 30 percent. But then I think we saw some panic buying yesterday. Some delivery services for food aren’t functioning right now, and I think people are noticing that and wondering ‘what if I’m stuck in my house for three weeks with no weed?’”

Ramstad is also disinfecting everything in his shop as often as possible – including ATMs and door handles. 

He has a solid supply of Cannabis products as well, but there’s a potential looming packaging shortage coming on the grower side because of the economic shutdown in China, where much of that packaging is made, Ramstad noted.

“We have vendors that haven’t been able to get their packaging because of the situation in China,” he said. “In some cases, where the laws in Washington changed on packaging at the start of January, some companies designed new packaging for the new year – but now with the China shutdown, they’re still waiting for that to come in.”

Chris Bell of Doghouse Cannabis in Vancouver said his grow has seen some shipments slowed from China, but he worked things out with the company’s packaging supplier overseas to limit the delays.

“I was worried out of the gate that any products coming from outside the U.S. might be shut down,” Bell said. “Packaging could be a major hold up for other growers as well. Many of them get packaging from China because the same materials are cost prohibitive in the United States.”

China is also one of the largest global suppliers of lighting supplies used in the Cannabis industry, and while that shortage won’t have a huge impact on already existing grows, it could impact new grows across the country trying to set up.

“A ton of stuff comes from China,” Bell said. “Even if a particular brand is selling a product in the U.S., a lot of companies have switched to outsourcing components to China.”

Doghouse is also changing the way it allows sick time, making it easier for workers to call in sick during the outbreak, because if the disease spreads among his workers like High End Market Place, he would also have to shut down completely.

“I just don’t want anybody coming in sick right now,” Bell said. 

MacRae, who owns the data analysis firm Straight Line Analytics, which has worked on Cannabis testing issues in Washington, said he has been carefully looking at coronavirus statistics out of China and across the globe. This disease scares him, he said, because the lack of available testing in the U.S. means it has likely already spread. And as cases grow, health systems in various areas are likely to be overwhelmed. 

“One problem is that mild cases are actually pretty dangerous because they go out and spread the disease instead of staying home,” MacRae said. “That has me worried. Even with SARS I didn’t lock myself in the house for a week, but this one – Washington is going to be the guinea pig of this outbreak for the rest of the country.”

MacRae lives in between the two major outbreak spots in the Seattle area, and he said many of the other medical Cannabis patients he knows are also planning to hunker down and hope this threat passes. Most of the industry events in the next two months in his area have also already been cancelled.

Jeeter suggested that Cannabis patients looking to stock up and shelter in place might want to consider stocking up on edibles or FECO drops, because they can relieve body aches and give you a health boost.

“My advice if you catch this thing – don’t smoke, don’t vaporize. You shouldn’t do any of that,” Jeeter said. “If you microdose with whole plant medicine, though, it can boost your immune system. Also, don’t pass joints, don’t pass bowls. Use common sense. Huge numbers of us are going to catch this, but many people will be just fine. The danger with this is for those of us who are elderly, immunocompromised or have lung problems. For us, this could really go south quickly.”

review by ZANE VORENBERG | photo by Free to Use & Gras Grun @unsplash