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Cannabis industry considerations in the midst of COVID-19

This article will be updated with necessary changes to event schedules. The last update was made on March 11, 2020.

At first, the frenzy around Coronavirus seemed a classic byproduct of the media: a clickbait-worthy “here we go again” heath scare taking headlines and the toilet paper industry by storm. As Costco lines grew longer and BulkBarn shelves cleared, however, it began to adopt a slightly more apocalyptic air of doom. In the last month alone, the international tourism community has shuttered museums as large as Paris’ Louvre, Disneyland's theme parks, and massive tech gatherings, each an attempt to slow the pandemic. Experts warn travellers to steer clear of airports and train stations, and millions are being quarantined within the borders of their own country as the virus spreads.

When it comes to the cannabis market, the doomsday preparation seems no different, with dispensaries even anecdotally claiming a few reports of edible and flower purchasing hikes. But with consideration for the culture’s buzzing social calendar, what does it mean for the industry’s upcoming events and conferences? And what can share-happy stoners do to quell the spread of this rampant respiratory infection?

Upcoming cannabis events

One of the leading tokens of advice from health experts and officials—besides wash your hands, you filthy animals—is to avoid large public gatherings. The obvious reasoning being crowds tend to increase the chance of encountering a carrier or someone infected by the disease. And this risk is certainly no different for a community that has a few bad actors tonguing communal joints and passing them to unsuspecting individuals regardless of their contagions. (Though, most are pretty good about bringing their own stash in the case of an illness.)

Despite hundreds of conferences and public events in other industries pulling the plug, postponing, or moving to digital hosting platforms, Spannabis, an annual conference and trade show in Barcelona, confirmed last week it intends to proceed as planned. A translated release on the event’s official website said organizers have no reason to cancel the event, further stating: “From the organization of Spannabis we recommend [not falling] into fake news and a social alarm that, according to the authorities, is disproportionate with respect to the facts. We are following closely the recommendations and indications of the authorities. If there is any news that modifies our plans, we will inform you urgently.”

As of March 9, there are just over 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country according to Spain’s health ministry, including cases currently being treated in Barcelona. Spanish health authorities suggest staying home if symptoms of an illness are present. Though the city in which the event is set to take place isn’t considered high risk yet, some institutions have closed throughout the country, including the Saint Louis University in Madrid, which suspended its classes, and a hotel in Tenerife, which was quarantined.

Updated: On Wednesday (March 11), Spannabis organizers announced a postponement until an undisclosed date the fall. The decision comes as a response to an announcement from Generalitat of Catalunya declaring "extraordinary measures" be taken the the wake of the outbreak, including a ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people at indoor or outdoor events. An email statement from organizers reads: “We have tried as hard as possible to hold Spannabis normally, but under these circumstances, we have no alternative.”

On March 10, High Times announced it has postponed its upcoming 420 Cannabis Cup due to the outbreak. In a statement released via social media, the publication said it’s with a “heavy heart” that it delays the festival, but will refund all tickets and still plans on celebrating the holiday “in a more virtual manner”.

CannaTech, a two-part internationally-renowned industry conference, has also pushed back its Tel Aviv event from the end of March to June 15 and 16, “based on recommendations from the Israeli Ministry of Health, the [World Health Organization] and the [Centre for Disease Control and Prevention].” Israel has imposed a 14-day quarantine on return travelers, and, with thousands waiting in isolation, 50 have tested positive for Coronavirus.

Updated: Until Tuesday (March 10), the New England Cannabis Convention in Boston, which was estimated to draw over 20,000 attendees, however, said it would continue with its scheduled dates of March 20 to 22. On Friday (March 6), a statement on its official website read: “We currently have no plans to postpone our upcoming conventions in Boston… or Illinois (April 3-4). At this point the only circumstances that would cause us to cancel would be if the host venues (The Hynes Convention Center in Boston or the Chicago Hilton) decided to shut down themselves, which neither venue is currently considering doing.” As of Tuesday, that is no longer the case. Co-founders Marc Shepard and Jeff Lawrence released a statement confirming the events postponement on the event's website.

In Las Vegas, the National Cannabis Risk Management Association has postponed its conference, which “will now be held later this year, likely in the fall”, and the same goes for the NoCo Hemp Expo, which was slated for later this month in Denver.

Update: One of the largest European industry networking events, the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in Berlin, has announced it will push the originally scheduled date of April 1 to 3 to the end of July. A official statement said the decision was made in light of both health and safety concerns, and to avoid a last minute shutdown from German authorities. Its one-day Barcelona event will continue as planned and takes place on March 12.

Updated: The Stepping High Festival, a concert series and exhibition in Negril, Jamaica has suspend its 17th annual event slated for March 20 to 21 until further notice. The event is said to be one of the longest running "ganja festivals" in the Caribbean.

In light of the cancelations and setbacks, Vancouver’s annual 4/20 farmer’s market and protest has come under question recently. The event based in the city’s West End neighbourhood drew over 150,000 attendees last year. Organizers said until the Ministry of Health takes action in closing public events, 4/20 will proceed as planned.

Dana Larsen, a event spokesperson and cannabis advocate, confirmed to a Maple Ridge publication organizers consulting with Vancouver Coastal Health and will be discouraging joint sharing throughout the event.

On March 9, the B.C. ministry of health confirmed 32 cases of COVID-19 in the province, including one death of a man in his 80s and four full recoveries.

The latest statement reads: “There has been a notable transmission of COVID-19 at group events—large and small. As a result, we recommend social distancing, forgoing usual greetings, consideration for virtual gatherings and, most importantly, staying away if you are experiencing any illness.

“Event organizers should ask all participants to stay away if they are sick, returning from affected areas, or have underlying health conditions that may be impacted by respiratory illness.”

Tips for sanitary social sharing

The reality is if an influx of infected patients swarm local clinics and hospitals (as experts say most humans are likely to contract the virus), it could result in an unprecedented disaster within mere months. But, Justin Lessler, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Global Health Now if the spread can be mitigated to pan out over three years, it will give health officials plenty of time to treat patients and develop a vaccine. This means the public is responsible for taking precautionary measures, including scaling up sanitation habits and reducing public exposure.

While there have been a few questionable correlations between cannabis and its ability to combat any cold virus, there is no evidence to say any cannabinoid or cannabis compound has any preventative applications in the spread of any virus. As weed is a ‘social substance’—passed to the left around circles and burned in shared pipes and bongs—there is a risk in spreading any orally-transmitted bacteria or virus during group consumption.

With consideration to the spread of any germs (from COVID-19 to Hepatitis C), there are a few tools and tips to help keep consumption clean, the first being wash your hands regularly and keep a bottle of hand sanitizer around. The best way to prevent contraction and spread is to keep your hands clean and away from your face. Also invest in single- or solo-use accessories, the most convenient of which is a joint tip. These cheap additions come in a variety of disposable and reusable materials, but non-porous glass or recyclable cardboard are the best for cleaning and disposal purposes.

Another useful consumption device is a one-hitter or pipe, which can be packed with flower to burn a few tokes, emptied, and reused.

Keep isopropyl wipes on hand, or with your bong, and clean glass after every use (this is also a good trick to preventing resin build up, so it’s a win-win).

And, finally, keep your vaporizers, pens, and e-devices to yourself. With over 100,000 confirmed cases and over 4,000 deaths, sharing isn’t caring in the midst of a growing viral pandemic.

If you are running low, and must share a joint or blunt, a useful social consumption method is to smoke through your hand, often called “chillum style” for it’s visual similarity to a smoking chillum pipe. When a shared joint comes your way, make a loose fist with your hand. Place the lit joint between any two fingers. Wrapping your other hand around the back of your fist to seal any potential air gaps, inhale through the “O” shape made by your forefinger and thumb. The vacuum created by inhaling through a closed fist will pull the smoke through, saving your lips from touching the joint itself. And sanitize your hands before and after any session.

Photo credit: Piper Courtenay

The World Health Organization suggests cutting out smoking all together, as it can weaken lung health, and, though it should not have to be said, neither cocaine nor cannabis (of any cultivar), can kill COVID-19.

This article is available under a Canadian Creative Commons licence.