What’s essential during California’s coronavirus lockdown? Cannabis and garden shops stay open

Adina Raridon says cannabis products sold at her favorite dispensary in Sacramento are vital to her health.

Especially with a pandemic raging.

“With all the hyper-consciousness around this, for those of us with PTSD and anxiety, it’s really spiked,” Raridon, 43, said as she walked out of the All About Wellness pot dispensary in midtown Sacramento early Friday. “Without the cannabis dispensaries being open, we wouldn’t be able to get the medicine we need.”

Much of California has been effectively shut down by the coronavirus pandemic and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “stay at home” order. Yet scores of businesses have been deemed essential, including some that might not seem immediately obvious, and are remaining open.

The list goes far beyond grocery stores and pharmacies. Sacramento County’s shutdown order, issued a few hours before Newsom implemented a statewide mandate, exempts dry cleaners, media organizations, exterminators and taxi drivers, to name a few.

In the aftermath of Newsom’s order, issued late Thursday, some businesses were still scrambling to determine their status. Sacramento County’s eight-page order went into considerable detail on what’s allowed. The governor’s order was just two pages and said Californians would have continued access to “such necessities as food, prescriptions and health care.”

Roo Landscaping in Sacramento closed mid-day Friday after spending the morning trying to determine whether it should stay open.

“We were looking for where we stood,” said Nathan Johnson, owner of the landscaping business.

Talini’s Nursery in east Sacramento shut down because “it’s the right thing to do,” said manager Meg Gray. “It was a madhouse in here the other day and nobody was following any of the (social distancing) directives.” She said Talini’s hopes to reopen with curbside pickup.

Others were carrying on. Thursday afternoon the parking lot at Green Acres Nursery & Supply on Jackson Road was a busy place, with employees loading potting soil and other goods into the trunks of customers’ cars. Agriculture is listed as an essential business in the Sacramento County order.

“We are an essential business because we provide fruit and plants to the community,” said Ashley Rossi, co-owner of the Green Acres chain. “Most people are buying vegetables and soil right now.”

Business owners said they are working hard to keep customers and employees safe. Rossi said Green Acres has opened an online ordering system to minimize contact. “You can drive up and we’ll load it in the car for you,” she said.

Sacramento’s Volvo Service, a repair shop on Fulton Avenue, said it was offering a “zero physical contact” option for customers. Customers were told to call or text the shop as they pulled into the parking lot. Auto repair is considered essential in Sacramento.

Maintaining social distancing is a challenge. The Kolas pot dispensary on Fruitridge Road placed neon orange masking tape on the sidewalk, approximately six feet apart, to keep customers distanced from one another as they waited in line.

At Vibe, a south Sacramento marijuana dispensary, about a dozen customers were lined up outside the store Thursday evening, with little spacing between them.

Friday morning, the dispensary’s owner, Vibe Bioscience, said it had implemented an online ordering service to reduce foot traffic. Customers were instructed to order in advance, stay in their cars and “we will then bring their order directly to their vehicle,” said chief operating officer Joe Starr. He said the lines had disappeared.

Are pot shops essential?

California’s cannabis industry scrambled to get itself on the approved list. After issuing a “shelter in place” order earlier this week, the city of San Francisco initially said pot shops had to shut down.

The city then reversed course, and that seemed to have set the tone for other communities. Sacramento County officials decreed that marijuana dispensaries could stay open, and Robert Baca, head of the Sacramento Cannabis Industry Association, said his organization has been told by state officials that pot shops are considered essential under Newsom’s broad order.

Customers line up outside of All about Wellness, a Sacramento medical cannabis dispensary, waiting for their orders to be fulfilled during the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, March 19, 2020 in Sacramento.
Customers line up outside of All about Wellness, a Sacramento medical cannabis dispensary, waiting for their orders to be fulfilled during the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, March 19, 2020 in Sacramento.

Although recreational use has been legal in California for two years, “it’s pretty widely recognized that a large portion of customers use the product medicinally,” Baca said.

Jeremy Clemmons, a customer of All About Wellness, said cannabis has become even more important with vast segments of society told to shut down.

“We’re supposed to be at home,” he said. “It’s something that keeps you more calm.”

Tina Childs, owner of the Valley Health Options pot shop in north Sacramento, said she’s been slammed with customers in recent days.

“It picked up because people worried we were gonna get closed down,” she said.

She said the shop is trying to make sure her elderly customers have safe access to cannabis products. “We try to get the elderly in and out,” she said. “My main concern has always been about the medical patients.”

Pot delivery businesses are seeing a surge in customers. Crystal Nugs of Sacramento has seen its sales double in recent days.

“We were kind of caught off guard a bit with the increase in sales, but we’re just trying to hang on right now,” said co-owner Maisha Bahati. “So far, so good.”

She said orders from senior citizens spiked right after the governor issued an advisory Sunday that everyone 65 and over should stay home.

“Knock on wood, cannabis seems to be recession proof so far,” Bahati said.

After Newsom ramped up his “stay at home” advisory, turning it into an order Thursday, businesses that had been open closed down.

For instance, GameStop, a nationwide retailer of electronic games, announced it’s staying open as a kind of public service. “While there are many businesses and organizations far more critical than ours, we believe we can have a positive impact during this very challenging time,” the company’s CEO said on its website.

But not in California. “Following the government mandate, all GameStops in California are closed,” said an employee at the chain’s Natomas store. There was no immediate comment from GameStop’s headquarters in Texas about Newsom’s mandate.

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