Ontario dispensaries still open but heeding recommendations to keep clients, staff safe

Burnt River Farms, a marijuana dispensary in Ontario, remains open and is frequently sanitizing and making sure people are adequately separated inside of the store. (File photo/courtesy Burnt River Farms)

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ONTARIO – Dispensaries in Ontario continue to operate while taking precautions to keep customers and staff safe.   

There is currently no intent to require dispensaries to close, according to a state spokesman.

“The expectation is that all businesses will enforce the limits on capacity for their shops so that social distancing can be implemented,” Lauren Wirtis, public information officer for the Oregon COVID-19 Joint Information Center, wrote in an email. “The shops should make sure that employees are taking care to wash their hands and limit touching their face in the course of their work.”

The Oregon Cannabis Association is asking the state to designate dispensaries as essential services in the event that non-essential businesses are required to shutter due to the coronavirus outbreak, citing the fact that many rely on access to marijuana for medical purposes. 

“We know that many states are currently taking action to help people continue to access their medicine through different strategies,” the Oregon Cannabis Association wrote in a letter to Gov. Kate Brown. 

The letter cites San Francisco as an example. The city’s pot shops were briefly shuttered, but were later reopened. As of Thursday night, all Californians were required to shelter in place with exceptions for essential workers and businesses.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health announced on its official Twitter account Tuesday that cannabis is an “essential medicine for many San Francisco residents” and that dispensaries would be allowed to operate “while practicing social distancing and other public health recommendations.”

Shawn McKay, co-owner of Burnt River Farms, a marijuana dispensary in Ontario, said his operation is still open.

McKay said the dispensary is balancing regulations and guidelines to ensure the safety of his employees and customers. He said his store is frequently sanitizing and making sure people are adequately separated inside of the store. 

McKay said the store is now doing its customer processing outside to minimize the risk of spreading the virus. 

“We are being just as proactive and doing as many things based on national and state suggestions as we can do to ensure the health of our customers and employees,” McKay said. 

At Weedology, the store is implementing guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House. Budtenders wear gloves and have been asked not to touch IDs when they are checking in people. 

All three dispensaries in Ontario offer customers the option to shop online and pick up and pay for their order in the store, limiting the amount of time they spend at the dispensaries.

Steven Meland, co-owner of the Hotbox Farms dispensary in Ontario, said his shop is taking a number of steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

Some of the measures being taken at Hotbox Farms include, restricting all contact with customers, wearing gloves and using commercial hand sanitizing stations, Meland said.

“Reducing the amount of people in the facility at a time by eliminating all seating and suggesting customers give each other ample space,” is one measure implemented by Hotbox Farms, Meland said.

“We take the health and safety of our guests and staff very seriously and will continue to modify our plan as we receive additional information from the CDC,” Meland added.

McKay said that customers are asking if the state will soon shut the dispensary down, and if they should stock up on marijuana products. 

As of now, McKay said, the state is telling the dispensary that it can remain open, but that could change.

“The OLCC has talked about making some rule changes that may allow us more flexibility to serve our customers outside of the building,” McKay said. 

“We are going well above what is required for us,” McKay said.

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