During World War II, America crushed fascism by repurposing automobile factories into making fighters and bombers.
In today’s war on COVID-19, America’s $10.73 billion legal marijuana sector is rapidly redeploying assets to help fight SARS-CoV-2, with the goal of saving as many lives as possible. Legal cannabis makers have begun repurposing hash supply chains for hand sanitizer. Marijuana farmers are donating pest control gowns to desperate hospitals. And once-derided ‘pot shops’ are running food drives to keep America’s most vulnerable fed.
’We just want to show everyone that if everyone does a little we can accomplish a lot.’Sky Rutherford, Head of Construction, Jahlibyrd cannabis, Nevada County, CA
Healthcare workers nationwide have spent a month begging the public for more personal protective equipment—latex gloves, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns, and disinfectants. Hundreds of thousands of lives are on the line if healthcare collapses under a wave of COVID cases.
Cannabis employs 243,700 Americans, many of them deemed “essential” and exempt from stay-at-home orders. They’re handling double the usual retail orders, and maintaining the weed supply chain, while also pitching into their communities.
In Santa Rosa, CA, about 5,000, 1-ounce tubes of hand sanitizer went out to Bay Area hospitals and police departments March 28, with another 20,000 on the way, courtesy of leading extract maker Care By Design.
Known statewide for the THC gel caps, tinctures, and vape pens, Care By Design converted a portion of their manufacturing space and production capacity to formulate and package up some COVID-killing gel. Hand sanitizer is back-ordered for weeks on Amazon.
Jim Hourigan, CEO of Care By Design’s parent company CannaCraft, said “when we started hearing reports of a shortage in hand sanitizer, we knew that we could be of assistance without negatively impacting our employees or our operations.”
CannaCraft founder Dennis Hunter told Leafly that ingredients and packaging once used to make cannabis extracts and skin creams are now keeping cops and nurses safe at work.
Earlier this month CannaCraft called upon three staff chemists to compound ethanol and other medical-grade alcohol with 55-gallon drums of aloe vera—both of which CannaCraft had at the plant. Their on-site lab verified the compound’s strength against SARS-CoV-2, according to FDA guidance documents. CannaCraft then repurposed unused topicals packaging, industrial bottle-filling machines, and label makers to mass-produce the needed supplies.
CannaCraft had planned to release the initial 40-gallon, 5,000-tube run of hand sanitizer to cannabis stores and delivery services. But a local newspaper story drew the attention of nearby nurses and cops. On March 26, CannaCraft loaded cases of Care By Design hand sanitizer into a Santa Rosa Police Department patrol vehicle.
That’s a far cry from four years ago, when public safety officials urged voters to reject Proposition 64.
“It’s just really amazing to be able to be in that position to help people and the community, and be part of the solution to the things we’re dealing with,” Hunter said.
Stepping up around the nation
CannaCraft isn’t the only company stepping up. Others around the industry are doing their part, including:
- Bay Area retailer/grower SPARC also began producing hand sanitizer in-house and donated ten gallons of it to San Francisco and Sonoma hospitals.
- California cannabis grower, packager, distributor and manufacturer Jahlibyrd (pronounced ‘jah lee bird’) has partnered with South Fork Vodka to make hand sanitizer.
- Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, CA, has 1,000 extra gowns this week thanks to Glass House Farms, a large-scale cultivator in Carpinteria. Industrial cannabis farming requires loads of disinfectant and protective gear for pest control. Glass House Farms president Graham Farrar knew he wanted to give back, and the plastic gowns were the first place to start.
- In Massachusetts, a large number of dispensaries—working through the Commonwealth Dispensary Association—are making their own hand sanitizer. They include: Revolutionary Clinics, INSA, Central Ave. Compassionate Care, Inc., Sira Naturals, NETA, Theory Wellness, Garden Remedies, Triple M, Alternative Therapy Group Inc., Berkshire Roots, Cultivate, Northeast Alternatives, Patriot Care, and Mass Wellspring.
- And CBD American Shaman is also making hand sanitizer in Kansas City.
“The industry is rallying,” said Hunter. “Not just to help each other, but others.”
Jahlibyrd: masks, hospital and food bank space
On March 30, Jahlibyrd, based in Nevada County, CA, near Lake Tahoe, received a huge order of masks destined for the entire front line—cops, nurses, and cannabis workers included. The company had anticipated the community need for masks weeks ago, and put in an order.
“We’ve been tracking this virus for a while and believe it’s a much bigger deal than most people do,” said Sky Rutherford, Jahlibyrd’s head of construction. “We are donating to multiple different first responders. We’re in touch with three different firehouses, the sheriffs department and two to three different medical clinics, as well the CEO of Dignity Health.”
Jahlibyrd has also donated the use of a 7,000 square-foot building to their local hospital for surge capacity, and 5,000 square-feet of space to the Nevada County food bank.
“We just want to show everyone that if everyone does a little we can accomplish a lot,” said Rutherford. “Just because we sell cannabis doesn’t mean we’re just in it for the money. It’s all about the community during these times.”
Food bank programs ramps up
Cannabis culture is rooted in compassion, from Brownie Mary Rathbun forward.
As sales surge at stores, cannabis retailers’ COVID-19 philanthropy efforts are just starting to ramp up. Many retail canna-businesses have existing food bank programs that they’re supporting as millions of Americans file for unemployment and face food scarcity.
For example, the Glass House group donates 5% of product sales from its Santa Barbara adult-use store to the Santa Barbara Foodbank. Farmacy employees also get paid sick leave and team lunches each day from local restaurants.
Santa Barbara’s local cannabis farming industry group has started the 93013 Fund (for the local ZIP code), and is donating $20,000 to local causes. Their fundraising target is $200,000.
- Leading Bay Area, CA delivery service Sava donates 10% of sales to charity partners providing protective equipment for California medical workers.
- ZoneIn CBD—a national brand from former NFL all-pro linebacker Lofa Tatupu—reports they will donate $5 of all purchases to Food Lifeline.
- DefyCBD, co-founded by former NFL running back Terrell Davis, donated $400,000 in CBD drinks to Feeding America.
Compassion programs expand
Compassion programs earmark free or reduced-price cannabis for low-income medical cannabis patients and others. These programs have never been more important as folks on fixed incomes get squeezed hard.
Barbary Coast has two stores in San Francisco, and sold compassion eighth-ounces from Sherbinskis for $1, instead of the regular $75, to anyone in need on March 30. Dubbed Sherbinskis in Place, the eights sold out in a single morning. Similar sales will likely follow.