Jamaica’s cannabis industry regulator announced it will allow online orders for medical marijuana patients to pick up at “herb houses” in order to help contain the coronavirus outbreak.

The Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) announced the interim measures in consultation with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries. The temporary rule-change applies to medical marijuana patients registered at a cannabis dispensary, with regulators hoping the use of online orders and pickups will “minimize the length of time spent in such licensed facilities thereby limiting the exposure of staff and patients alike.”

The CLA’s Director of Enforcement and Monitoring, Faith Graham, said in a press release that the regulator is “cognizant of the far-reaching effects of the pandemic and remains vigilant and proactive in taking steps to secure the industry.”

Prior to the CLA’s announcement, the Jamaican government’s Disaster Risk Management Orders pertaining to COVID-19 ensured that “herb houses may be deemed a business that offers retail services for the provision of medicine.”

The CLA notes in its statement that “any exemptions given to these retail services under these orders may be considered applicable to retail herb houses.”

In order to make use of the online order and pickup scheme, cannabis dispensaries must submit a copy of the registered patient’s government-issued identification and their prescription or physician’s recommendation to the CLA. The “herb houses” must also “submit reports and inventory to the CLA in accordance with the required standards and within stipulated timelines.”

The CLA’s announcement, alongside the emergency measures passed by the Jamaican government, are yet another example of state officials and lawmakers introducing measures to ensure access to legal cannabis under social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders. The majority of US states with medical marijuana programs have deemed it an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some regulators implementing their own measures to keep the industry running while minimizing the risk of spreading the disease.

Washington, D.C. lawmakers issued an emergency rule to allow for medical marijuana deliveries to qualifying patients, or curbside pickups. Even at the federal level, the US House of Representatives’ latest coronavirus relief bill included provisions to shield banks from federal interference for providing financial services to state-legal cannabis businesses. Whilst the inclusion of cannabis reform measures was widely derided by Republican lawmakers, proponents for the measure argued it is necessary to ensure marijuana businesses, as essential services, can continue to operate and that dispensary workers do not have to unnecessarily handle cash.

The Jamaican government’s inclusion of marijuana industry concerns in its coronavirus measures is another indication of the growing acceptance of cannabis’s legitimate function within society. Several other Caribbean nations have also taken steps towards marijuana legalization in recent years. In the US territory of the Virgin Islands, medical cannabis was legalized last year and now lawmakers are considering a bill to legalize adult-use marijuana. Meanwhile, St. Kitts and Nevis residents are now permitted to consume marijuana in private following a court ruling that the nation’s anti-cannabis laws were unconstitutional. At the end of last year, the governor of Trinidad and Tobago signed a bill into law to decriminalize marijuana possession.

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