The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered businesses and sent people hunkering down behind closed doors from coast to coast. In addition to stocking up on canned and dry goods, consumers are worried about maintaining cannabis supply.
The outbreak was having an impact on the North American cannabis industry weeks before it actually reached the continent’s shores. But with the imposition of “shelter-in-place” orders, tokers started to worry about where their next batch of bud would be coming from.
On March 16, when six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area issued such orders, there was an immediate run on dispensaries. Spared was Alameda County, where cannabis shops were deemed to be an “essential” service. Facing a public outcry, authorities in San Francisco just one day later decided to follow Alameda’s lead, and lifted the order for dispensaries to close. On March 20, when a statewide lockdown was declared, dispensaries were excluded as an essential service.
Similar scenes in Denver caused authorities to likewise reverse themselves there.
But in some places, dispensaries are closed—such as Massachusetts, in spite of the public outcry. And even before the current crisis, cannabis users were turning to the long-languishing American ethic of self-sufficiency to ride out shortages.
Urban Herb in the Windy City
The Chicago Tribune profiles the case of local epilepsy sufferer David Kurfman. Following shortages at Illinois outlets, he recently established a basement grow room. Relying on cannabis oil with a 2-to-1 CBD-THC ratio to control his seizures, Kurfman took advantage of the personal cultivation provision of the state’s legalization statute. Having invested $5,000 in lights, fans and other necessary equipment, he now has his legally permitted five plants putting out their first buds.
“There’s a statewide shortage of all products, and patients are suffering from that,” Kurfman told the Trib. “I hope to transition to growing my own medicine.”
A well cared-for five-plant grow can produce far in excess of the one ounce of bud that “recreational” users may possess legally, or the fortnightly 2.5-ounce purchase limit for medical patients.
State law allows medical cannabis patients 21 and over to grow their five plants in an “enclosed, locked space.” There are other restrictions too. Landlords may ban cultivation on their property. It also remains illegal to sell or give away cannabis from personal plants.
This was actually a compromise measure in the legalization statute signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker last June. Earlier versions of the legislation allowed all adults to grow five plants each at home. But law enforcement groups lobbied against this provision, and it was stricken from the bill. Under final version, only patients enrolled with the state’s medical marijuana program are permitted to cultivate at home. The original 2013 medical marijuana law included no provision for homegrown.
Home-growers may purchase seeds from licensed dispensaries. However, few are offering them for sale—so Pritzker’s administration is working on opening new avenues.
“The administration is working with various state agencies, cultivators and dispensaries to develop a clear process that will allow the sale of seeds to medicinal users,” Charity Greene, a representative for the governor’s office, told the Tribune.
Online groups such as the Illinois Medical Cannabis Review Guide have meanwhile emerged to recommend seed banks. Home Grow Chicago, a private business, is also offering classes in small-scale cannabis cultivation.
Under the mentorship of two experienced growers, Kurfman is now proud of the fruits of his labor—although he has yet to start producing oil. “It turned out magnificent,” he told the Tribune.
Also quoted by the Trib was Illinois cultivator and patient Mickey Nulf, who produces the Prof. Budz Potcast, and hosts a Facebook page for home-growers. “Let’s put the power back into patients’ hands,” he recently posted, “and let’s take care of our community.”
TELL US, do you know anyone who has started growing their own due to the COVID-19 outbreak?