As more states implement stay-at-home orders in response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, nonessential businesses are closing their doors while companies deemed “essential” are navigating this new paradigm.
Among the list of essential businesses are medical cannabis dispensaries. According to an article from late March by The New York Times, “More than a dozen states have agreed that while ‘nonessential’ stores had to close, pot shops and medical marijuana dispensaries could remain open — official recognition that for some Americans, cannabis is as necessary as milk and bread.”
However, staying open puts medical cannabis dispensary agents at risk. For example, if workers do not wear gloves or follow proper protocols as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they could expose themselves to the virus or contaminate their products. Beyond the employees, the most vulnerable group visiting the dispensary are older patients and people with preexisting medical conditions (such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma), according to the World Health Organization.
As the CEO of a cannabis consulting firm, there are steps I believe managers can consider taking to ensure dispensary agents are following best practices when interacting with customers, handling products and responding to a crisis:
1. Consider petitioning for change.
Some states have allowed for curbside pickup of medical cannabis. If you’re a dispensary agent in a state without curbside pickup, consider petitioning to your governor to make an addendum to the current stay-at-home order that allows patients to remain in their vehicles and agents to serve products curbside.
2. Respect social distancing.
Try to keep six feet from others. Place “X” marks on the floor to indicate six-foot distances in your waiting lines, and instruct dispensary agents to stand back from the counter when interacting with customers.
Social distancing and stay-at-home orders are also likely impacting the number of people who visit your store, so as a leader, consider setting up a communication system to help you interact with your customers virtually. Using one of these systems can help you coordinate and manage e-mails and text messages during times of crisis. By following these tips, managers can address patient fears and make up for the lost traffic inside the store.
3. Prepackage your products.
Move away from deli-style serving. This change will require you to invest in new equipment and shift resource allocation, but doing so reduces direct contact with patient medicine, quickens wait times and standardizes each person’s product experience.
Managing communication to patients is equally important to change management; patients might use your dispensary for the ability to select their products, so the switch to prepackaging requires an arsenal of rebuttals to patient questions.
Some businesses are using a cannabis consulting firm to assist with change management. No matter which direction you take, create your strategy for making the switch first, and detail all the steps in order of importance so that your employees are on the same page. Timing is everything. The inability to effectively pivot during times of crisis times could greatly impact your business.
4. Set up an online ordering system.
Consider switching to a preorder system to reduce each transaction risk. When setting up an online ordering system, images of the products, especially pictures of cannabis flowers, can make or break your menu. The quality of the image represents your brand. Make sure you are using a lightbox, a professional camera and shot on a white background.
Think of these images as crucial as your LinkedIn profile picture. Before the go-live date, test the system thoroughly to ensure it is linked correctly to your inventory management system.
5. Stay up-to-date on employer best practices.
To help prevent the spread of the virus, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its guidance in March to allow ADA-covered employers to take employees’ temperatures. If you choose to take employees’ temperatures, ensure you are using an FDA-approved thermometer.
Additionally, as the EEOC reported, “Employers should remember that guidance from public health authorities is likely to change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. Therefore, employers should continue to follow the most current information on maintaining workplace safety.”
In summary, businesses large and small have been impacted worldwide by the novel coronavirus, and dispensaries are no exception. By taking actionable steps to adapt, dispensary agents can help protect themselves and their consumers and set their businesses up for success during these trying times.