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Keeping Cannabis Patients Safe During COVID-19

As COVID-19 spreads, dispensaries are facing unprecedented challenges. The results have been mixed. We’ve talked about the risk of cash transactions during this time and in general. 


There are two more risk factors that create a Russian roulette of risk for cannabis customers and patients. The long wait times created by inefficient processes and the health risk that seniors and vulnerable community members are being subjected too. 

Here’s how these risk factors have increased, and what can be done to deter them. 

Challenges and Shortcomings

One factor that’s increasing the risk of patients is legislative indecision. Day-to-day changes or general vagueness created many of the current industry challenges. 

For instance, Santa Clara County banned in-store transactions for all recreational customers this week. They also announced that suppliers must stop work on the cultivation and distribution of marijuana for recreational use. The common thread with these legislative changes is delivery, curbside, and digital payment processes that should be in place.

Legislative actions are largely outside of a dispensary’s control so it’s important to stay informed with local regulations. 

Dispensaries have more control over the increase of long lines due to inefficient processes. The demand increase and new curbside protocols have created long lines due to inefficient processes. The slowdown is exacerbated by the lack of a digital payment option. Customers have to engage in cash transactions and are pressured to bring exact change. Long lines with 90-minute waits have been reported at Arizona dispensaries in part because of the reliance on cash payments. 

With Alt Thirty Six mobile payments, patients are able to pre-pay so they only have to worry about picking up their product. 

It’s Only a Matter of Time 

The next risk involves the senior community and the reliance on cash payments. Dispensaries can improve their COVID-19 response by prioritizing the safety of seniors and the most vulnerable patients.

In Arizona, more than 20 percent of medical marijuana patients are older than 61, according to the Department of Health. Major grocers have designated senior hours so older shoppers can shop in safer environments. Metro Cannabis in Sacramento followed this approach by opening 75 minutes early for seniors, but widespread actions have not yet been taken. 

It’s clear that COVID-19 presents a greater risk to older patients. A medical journal, The Lancet, published a report with COVID-19 data from 38 countries. They found the risk of death increased with each decade of age, especially for those with underlying health conditions. 

We spoke with Ali Goldsand, MS, CPFS, a food safety consultant in Arizona about protecting cannabis patients. 

“I would recommend as little interfacing with the employee and customer as possible. Keep in mind, that a lot of the cannabis customers in Arizona are immunocompromised individuals with their medical licenses. We need to continue to protect these customers so they can feel safe continuing their prescriptive use,” Goldsand said. 

Dispensaries can reduce the amount of employee-patient interaction by using Alt Thirty Six for digital payments. This eliminates the risk of transmission through cash exchanges and reduces the need for excessive interaction during the transaction. Click to Tweet 

Positive Signs and Innovations

There’s also been appropriate precautions and smart thinking at various dispensaries around the country. Here are a few examples. 

Reservation System - At the Chicago dispensary, Mission Illinois, long lines were addressed by adopting an hourly reservation system. Similar to grocery store pickup orders, customers reserve an hourly window for pickup and receive a text when their order is ready. 

Curbside Adoption - More than 20 states are allowing curbside pickup orders. This creates a safer transaction in terms of social distancing but can also create new challenges. States such as California are better equipped for these orders because of the prevalence of digital payments. 

Air Filters and Precautions - Beyond the transaction, there’s plenty of precautionary actions to take. Downtown Dispensary in Tucson, Arizona installed special air filters to promote a sterile environment. The Green Cross in San Francisco took a similar measure and added HVAC ultra-violet lights to prevent germ recirculation. 

These measures should be taken in addition to standard precautions of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and hand washing. 

Moving Forward

The next step to eliminate this triple threat of risk is adopting digital payments. Establishing senior hours isn’t the only option for protecting elderly patients. 

Eliminating cash payments reduces the risk of infection transmission while making every curbside and delivery transaction faster and more convenient. This requires patient education and patience from employees who have to explain how a new process works. But safety should be paramount. The extra time spent with customer education is well worth it if it helps flatten the curve (while improving business & increasing revenue).   

This advice aligns with medical professionals and experts Goldsand said, “Limit the amount of physical transactions of product and physical payment. Dispensaries should practice social distancing with their employees and customers.” 

*To see the full interview with Alison Goldsand, click here!*

We’re looking to end this game of Russian roulette by helping dispensaries and patients. Alt Thirty Six is running a special now through April 20, 2020, Alt Thirty Six will be temporarily waiving all transaction fees for merchants on delivery transactions for new and existing clients. We’ll also expedite the underwriting and approval process so merchants can accept Alt Thirty Six payments within 24 hours. (Zero Fees promotion on delivery transactions expired after 4.20.20)

Click the link below to register online and start accepting cashless payments right away!

What are your thoughts on dispensaries taking the correct precautionary actions during this pandemic? Don't forget to share this blog post using the social links below!


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