As COVID-19 sweeps the world, many nations are systematically shutting down access to goods and services that aren’t deemed “essential” — but of course, many people are beginning to wonder what “essential” means, exactly. There is no doubt that hospitals, firehouses and police stations will remain in operation throughout the crisis, as they provide vital services that maintain safety and order. Grocery stores, too, supply essential goods like milk, eggs and bread. Most everyone can agree that energy production, waste collection and sewage treatment remain essential in modern times.

Unfortunately, the gray area around the term “essential” is massive and exceedingly fuzzy. Everyone should have access to clean clothes, but self-service laundromats force people into close quarters — so should they be allowed to operate? Some states are closing liquor stores, deeming them non-essential retail, while other states are expanding access to alcohol, even permitting home deliveries of booze. What about products like marijuana, which so many people use as legitimate medication and others rely heavily on to relax and enjoy life?

As usual, there is debate surrounding how cannabis should be handled during the coronavirus crisis, but it seems more and more likely that marijuana will be considered a true essential. Read on to learn why and what this means for the future.

Why Cannabis Is an Essential Good

Recreational marijuana is often compared to alcohol because people turn to the drug for fun, relaxation and leisure — but the truth is that marijuana and alcohol aren’t all that similar. Alcohol is in all honesty a poison; it kills cells and critical microorganisms within the body, and when metabolized, alcohol turns into an acid that creates scar tissue throughout the cardiovascular system. Frequent alcohol consumption results in high blood pressure, an excess of fat and increased rates of cancer. A relatively small amount of alcohol given to a non-drinker can flat-out kill them. Studies that claim that alcohol will extend a drinker’s lifespan are largely discredited.

In contrast, marijuana isn’t a poison; in fact, it is a legal medical treatment in many states. The medical community is recognizing the great medicinal benefits of pot in terms of relieving pain, relaxing the nervous system, improving digestion and more. Ongoing research continues to confirm that cannabinoids like THC and CBD are effective medical treatments for diseases like epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s, and many people rely on marijuana to maintain a baseline of health and comfort. That’s not to say that cannabis is without risks — all drugs come with side effects, and marijuana can cause low blood pressure, nausea and dizziness as well as a dangerous mental state. However, while ER visits due to marijuana overdoses have increased over the years, deaths attributed to weed are remarkably low, almost non-existent. Marijuana is a vital medical treatment, and that alone should make it an essential, but its low risks, especially in comparison to a widely accepted substance like alcohol, should safeguard its availability during times of crisis.

What States Are Doing to Ensure Cannabis Access

Fortunately, some states are moving fast not just to protect their populations but to protect people’s access to marijuana, as well. For example, in New Jersey and Colorado, medical marijuana users are now permitted to pick up their orders from the curb rather than risk spreading the virus by entering the close confines of the dispensary. Additionally, in places like Maryland and Illinois marijuana regulators are allowing doctors to recommend use of medical marijuana via telehealth. Here’s a list of states that, as of this writing, have deemed medical marijuana an essential service and protected its operation during the COVID-19 crisis:
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Washington

Other countries, too, are taking steps to ensure that medical marijuana patients can continue to access the treatments they require. 

What remains uncertain is how this crisis will advance marijuana acceptance within the greater American culture and legal system. In states that rushed to loosen regulation around medical marijuana sales, will the new rules remain in place after shelter-in-place and social distancing mandates lift? If so, will more people flock to medical and recreational marijuana usage thanks to increased convenience, and will the marijuana industry as a whole see a much-needed boost?

There are dozens upon dozens of question marks surrounding this pandemic event, and fortunately, it seems that the status of medical marijuana isn’t a major one. Thanks to compassionate and responsible expansion of marijuana regulation, it seems that marijuana is considered essential to the safe and effective functioning of society — at least for now. Hopefully, this is an indication that regulation surrounding marijuana will continue to loosen into the future, and greater acceptance will come to the marijuana community at large.