By Samantha J. Gross

As municipalities like Miami-Dade and Broward counties have started to close nonessential businesses in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, they have exempted what are deemed “essential” businesses like healthcare providers, gas stations, banks and news outlets.

But what about medical marijuana treatment centers?

They’ll remain open for business.

According to statute, the dispensaries are considered an essential service and are to be treated like retail pharmacies.

Many of the dispensaries use delivery services to get medication to patients, as well as offer drive-thru windows or online ordering and pickup at the stores.

Delivery drivers are also carrying a letter signed by Surgeon General Scott Rivkees that says the business “performs a critical role in providing healthcare delivery services” and authorizes drivers to “travel outside of established curfews during the declared State of Emergency related to COVID-19.”

Parallel, which operates as Surterra Wellness in Florida, has encouraged customers to preorder products online, has disinfected its stores and has outfitted employees with personal protective equipment like gloves and masks.

“It’s never been more evident how important cannabis is to improving personal well-being than at this unprecedented time. Our customers’ well-being is the reason we exist,” said Elizabeth Conway, Parallel’s Florida president. “Cannabis is recognized as essential in helping many people seeking relief from anxiety, insomnia and other health symptoms.”

Trulieve, the largest seller of medical marijuana in the state, has increased production at its growing and processing facilities since the virus started spreading in the state. It has also acquired additional delivery vehicles, hired more drivers and set up “mobile hubs” for people to pick up medication.

The company is also offering free home delivery for patients over 65 and reduced rates for others.

Ron Watson, of AltMed, said it’s important the dispensaries remain open because they “are part of the pharmaceutical system.”

“Anywhere from 20% to 30% of recommendations are for anxiety or PTSD,” he said. “Everybody’s anxiety is pretty high right now.”

Watson said the online ordering system is streamlined, and at three of the locations, patients can pick up their products at a drive-thru window.

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