Several Massachusetts adult-use cannabis retailers have filed a lawsuit against Governor Charlie Baker for deeming them non-essential businesses during the COVID-19 quarantine.
The suit, filed by five adult-use stores and one medical marijuana patient, asks the court for a preliminary injunction that will allow all 42 of the Bay State's recreational pot shops to re-open immediately. Governor Baker ordered these businesses to close as part of a “stay-at-home” order intended to stop the spread of coronavirus. Medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed to remain open, however.
The five adult-use stores that sued the state employ around 8,000 workers and generate a total of $13 million in weekly gross sales, according to the lawsuit. The current quarantine rules extend for about six weeks, from March 24th to May 4th, and will leave most weed industry employees out of work, while potentially costing these stores nearly $80 million in lost profit. The lawsuit also notes that some Bay State residents depend on adult-use stores for easy access to medical marijuana.
"If it continues, this mandatory closure will cause profound and irreparable damage to the nascent adult-use marijuana industry; will deprive Massachusetts residents of safe access to regulated marijuana; and, will make it very difficult or impossible (e.g., in Nantucket) for certain medical-marijuana users to obtain marijuana legally," the lawsuit explains, according to Patch.
Faced with the bleak prospect of being quarantined at home without weed, over a thousand Massachusetts residents applied for the state's medical marijuana program in the last week alone. To ensure that the state's medical cannabis industry will be able to handle this spike in demand, state regulators just passed a new rule allowing adult-use businesses to transfer their weed inventories to medical dispensaries.
Regulators also just released a number of new rules that will allow adult-use cultivators to continue taking care of their crops during the quarantine. These new rules will help limit the financial damage of the quarantine, but retailers are still demanding that the state acknowledge them as essential services, like most other adult-use states have.
A similar situation occurred last year, when Gov. Baker temporarily banned the sales of all legal cannabis vapes during the outbreak of a widespread vaping-related lung illness. Cannabis activists sued the state over this ban, and a court agreed that the governor did not have the authority to ban medical marijuana vaping products. After an additional round of safety testing, state regulators allowed these products to return to the market.
It remains to be seen whether the courts will follow the precedent of last year's case, or allow the governor's ban to remain in effect for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.