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What Cannabis Companies Can Learn From Their Colleagues In California

The Golden State was hit early and hard. Here are some key takeaways from their response.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Cannabis businesses are no doubt one of the more resilient industries. They already operate under some of the tightest laws and compliance in their respective states. Right now, that same resiliency is proving itself in the pandemic climate. As the war on the novel coronavirus continues, businesses have adapted in unprecedented ways.  

Coastal Dispensary

While California, the fifth-largest economy in the world, has emerged a model state for smart coronavirus response, many California cannabis businesses have also served as a model for safe and nimble operations under COVID-19. The state is beginning to flatten its curve, but stringent safety measures are still in place. As other hotspots in the nation begin to surface, it may be useful for cannabis business owners around the nation to take their cue from their comrades out west. 

Related: Coronavirus: 20 Do's and Don'ts To Stay Safe, Fit & Healthy

Dispensary safety

Santa Barbara-based Coastal Dispensary, a fast-growing central coast operator with multiple retail and delivery locations, is one example of a dispensary that has gone above and beyond, taking extra precaution to ensure the safety of guests and employees.

On a Sunday evening in mid-April, guests are thoroughly spaced out on markers, patiently waiting in line; team members are equipped with gloves and masks, and maintain thorough distance from one another throughout the storefront. One customer points to a Mary’s Medicinals CBD/CBN dropper, as she makes a comment about it being the only thing that helps her sleep. The gloved sales associate pulls it from the glass case and rings her up.

Coastal also has an option for “isolated quick pick-up” at its flagship store in downtown Santa Barbara that they are encouraging customers to use. The pick-up window has a separate, self-contained entrance in the fulfillment area. Orders are placed via the website, and all customer and operator communication are done through glass windows, so no physical contact is necessary. This is just one example of what safe operation looks like. 

Cultivating safety 

Beyond dispensaries, the cannabis supply chain which includes state-licensed cannabis businesses like farmers, distributors, manufacturers, and testing labs are also considered “essential” under the state policy, according to Nicole Elliott, senior adviser on cannabis in Governor Gavin Newsom’s Office of Business and Economic Development. 

“Recreational consumers are also medical patients or someone that needs relief from anxiety, which everyone is experiencing with the COVID-19 virus,” says Autumn Brands CFO Autumn Shelton. “So we are grateful to see the State of California understands that. The industry and activists that have fought to educate how important this plant is for the world and a continued fight against black market product that is full of pesticides and other harmful additives.” 

Autumn Brands, a grow operation in Central California, says its farm is continuing to focus on producing high-quality, consistent, and pesticide-free flower so it can continue to meet the increase in demand, but safety comes first. “In order to keep our farm safe, we have implemented many new standard operating procedures within the company,” says Shelton. Some of those items include having two full-time employees sanitize all surfaces throughout the facility all day plus all employees spend 30 minutes at the end of each day disinfecting their areas. Employees are given strict instructions to stay home if they or someone at home if even slightly ill. Everyone wears masks and gloves and adheres to social distancing. They’ve also halted their 45 person rideshare vans. 

Related: 5 Cannabis Brands That Are Crushing It On Instagram

In this together

California's cannabis companies are also trying to support other local businesses. “It’s important that the employees and non-essential businesses are taken care of,” says Shelton, whose company is part of a group of local cannabis farmers group that is rotating purchasing lunches twice per week for all their employees from local restaurants ensuring these community businesses can also keep the lights on while taking care of employees at the same time. They are also part of a fund that provides meals to the food bank and other community members in need. Another operator, Cresco Labs, launched a program and is ordering 650 lunches daily for staff from local restaurants surrounding both its retail and operation facilities. The aforementioned Coastal gave away 4,000 masks and donated additional masks to local nonprofit partners so vulnerable community members have masks too. 

Related: Nation's First Drive-Thru To Offer Two Essential Services: Food And Cannabis

Even as California flattens the curve, California Governor Gavin Newsom says life will look a lot different in the weeks and months to come. No matter what state you are in, regularly check the CDC’s guidelines. There are also free cannabis resources like this tool from Meadow, a cannabis software provider, which published a comprehensive list of retail and delivery safety and sanitation protocols geared to businesses in California, but certainly applicable for other states. There are also important PR lessons laid out in this handy COVID-19 PR checklist for cannabis entrepreneurs.