Flower power

Will cannabis data in the age of COVID-19 help in push to legalize marijuana?

Dispensary
With the uptick of people becoming medical marijuana patients, could the powers that be put lobbying aside and look to legalize weed? | Image courtesy: Holistic Industries

If there is any positive to the widespread anxiety caused by COVID-19, there’s a very good chance that it just might change the narrative and stigma around marijuana. 

As cannabis slowly turns the norm of being socially acceptable as more and more people use recreationally or obtain medical marijuana licenses to treat various conditions, it’s impossible to escape that it’s here and in your face.

In our city, recreational use has been decriminalized, and more dispensaries are popping up offering strains that claim to treat everything from anxiety to angioedema. Personally, I’m not an anxious person – at least I don’t think I am – and I don’t necessarily suffer from a condition that would warrant a medical license. 

However, the change of lifestyle courtesy of constantly staying at home but still trying to manage a full-time job, or searching for work to support families, the stress of it all is overwhelming. As I write this, I’m trying to focus on last-minute emails coming in and a fast-closing 3 p.m. deadline all while I have two kids screaming over the fact that their screen time has ended for the day and that they need to find something else to do. 

It’s 11:30 a.m., and already, I’d love to smoke. 

My situation is tame by comparison. I think of people forced out of work over this, looking at the family they have to figure out how to put a meal on the table for or how they’ll be able to afford rent or mortgage payments for the foreseeable future. It’s also tame by comparison to the city’s homeless population who have been ostracized even more than they already are since in the eyes of many, they are no longer people but living embodiments of COVID-19. 

I think about older Philadelphians living alone who feel social isolation now more than ever given people aren’t allowed to visit and beyond the phone, either not having access to a smartphone or computer or even if they do, not being able to understand how to connect with people over a virtual platform. 

That kind of anxiety, stress and isolation can be cured temporarily by cannabis. Physicians, scientists and other mental and behavioral experts have repeatedly noted too that weed is a safer alternative over alcohol, currently the socially approved way to remove the proverbial monkey of our collective backs. 

“It has become clear people are using marijuana to get through the stress of what is now our reality, a reality rife with uncertainty. People are confused, angry and afraid. These emotions need psychiatric supports but in the meantime, we’re seeing the benefits of people popping a gummy or two and just chilling the fuck out.”

According to nationwide data, new carriers of medical marijuana cards have increased 142% since the outbreak clawed its way through the U.S. That has meant big business for many in the industry, including in our city, where people laid off from the jobs they have before COVID-19 are finding a fresh start working at area dispensaries. 

We have a story just this week on how the city’s hotel association linked with a major East Coast dispensary to find former hotel customer service associates across many of the city’s hotels jobs as cannabis counselors. 

Unless greed takes over, which it usually does, there’s a great case study from this outbreak for the legalization of marijuana across the country. Beyond the obvious that cops just aren’t busting people over weed anymore unless you’re a narco, the fact that it’s still outlawed is merely a formality that this pandemic might have just cracked the final layer on. 

It has become clear people are using marijuana to get through the stress of what is now our reality, a reality rife with uncertainty. People are confused, angry and afraid. These emotions need psychiatric supports but in the meantime, we’re seeing the benefits of people popping a gummy or two and just chilling the fuck out. 

The many folks I’ve spoken with regarding the path to legalizing marijuana note the tangled web of bureaucracy, political lobbying at the hands of private companies looking to benefit from medicinal sales and even situational racism in a quest to make weed available for all. If COVID-19 has taught me anything it’s that providing people with a substance with proven results in a time when they need it most shouldn’t come down to dollars and cents. 

But I also know just how littered that last sentence is with naiveté. It’s just sad that the idea is still wishful thinking. Here’s hoping the one benefit of COVID-19 after the dust settles is that it isn’t sad any longer. 

  • Kerith Gabriel's Headshot

    Kerith Gabriel is the editor-in-chief at Philadelphia Weekly but somehow hasn’t figured out that means he doesn’t have to write nearly as much. Journalism has been in his blood since his beginnings as a sports writer over a decade ago for the Philadelphia Daily News.