Even in the face of widespread retail closures, the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has largely spared America’s patchwork legal cannabis industry. Thanks to cannabis being granted “essential status,” with several states approving home delivery, many areas with legal weed saw increased sales stats during the first few months of the pandemic. But what happens if medical cannabis access is cut off by business closures in other industries?
According to The Gazette, the extended closure of Iowa doctors’ offices and DMV centers have cut the Hawkeye State’s monthly medical marijuana registrations and renewals by more than one third. Before the pandemic, Iowa averaged 360 patients a month, but those numbers dropped to 244 per month during April, May, and the first half of June.
“That is largely due to primary care physicians not being accessible,” Iowa medical marijuana program manager Owen Parker told The Gazette. “Patients could not make those appointments to either become a [medical marijuana] patient or have their application renewed. They are just now starting to be able to restart those visits.”
Similarly, the Iowa Department of Transportation Drivers License stations were also shuttered during the pandemic, and this is where MMJ patients receive their cards. The DOT centers mailed cards to patients during quarantine, but apparently that wasn’t enough to retain the same number of cardholders as previous months.
In March, two of Iowa’s five licensed medical marijuana dispensaries shut their doors for good, leaving only three dispensaries to serve the entire state. Iowa regulators plan to award retail licenses to two new dispensaries this fall, but until then, Hawkeye State cannabis patients are forced to travel long distances to find an operational pot shop.
“We understand that our licensees decided to leave and we are looking to replace them as fast as we possibly can,” Parker said.
Unfortunately, no matter how many patients are registered or how many dispensaries are open, Iowa’s medical marijuana program still caps all cannabis products at 3% THC. A bill to allow high-THC products has already passed the Iowa legislature, but it’s currently awaiting a signature from Republican Governor Kim Reynolds with no expected timeline for approval.
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