Amid coronavirus pandemic, California gov classifies cannabis industry as ‘essential’ during state’s effective lockdown

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California marijuana legislation

Under a clarification document Gov. Gavin Newsom issued late Friday, all licensed marijuana businesses in California can continue with business as usual during an effective statewide lockdown implemented in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The decision to categorize cannabis companies as “essential” in effect provides an economic lifeline to the marijuana industry by allowing MJ businesses to keep their doors open.

Before Newsom’s declaration, cannabis business executives were unsure where they could operate legally in the state after the governor issued a stay-at-home order to California residents on Thursday.

The California governor’s clarification could spur other states to follow suit. In a related move, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker took the lead when including cannabis companies in that state’s list of “essential” businesses when he issued a stay-at-home order on Friday.

In the new clarification document, Newsom’s administration identified businesses and industries categorized as “essential” and allowed them to keep operating during the state’s effective lockdown.

Cannabis retailers are on that list, alongside hospitals and “other medical facilities.”

The entire cannabis supply chain – including all state-licensed MJ businesses such as farmers, distributors, manufacturers and testing labs – also are considered “essential” under the state policy, according to Nicole Elliott, senior adviser on cannabis in Newsom’s Office of Business and Economic Development.

Elliott noted there’s no differentiation between “medical” and “recreational” cannabis companies, which means every licensed marijuana business that chooses to continue operations during the lockdown can stay open.

In a separate news release, the state Bureau of Cannabis Control said: “Because cannabis is an essential medicine for many residents, licensees may continue to operate at this time so long as their operations comply with local rules and regulations.”

The BCC also highlighted, however, that all businesses will need to adhere to the Center for Disease Control’s interim guidance on how to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“Any licensee that continues to operate must adopt social distancing and anti-congregating measures” as well as following all CDC guidance “at all times,” the BCC release stated.

That guidance includes:

  • Encouraging sick employees to stay home.
  • Instructing employees to wash their hands regularly.
  • Performing regular workplace cleaning.

The clarification brings to an end a whirlwind week that involved confusing and sometimes conflicting orders from California government officials as the coronavirus outbreak worsened.

The “essential” categorization in California led to immediate celebrations on social media Friday night from industry insiders who had worried their companies might have to temporarily shut down by law – which “nonessential” businesses like bars have had to do.

“We can all take a breath of relief tonight. Cannabis retail is officially listed as essential workforce!” one marijuana industry stakeholder commented on Facebook.

John Schroyer can be reached at

For more of Marijuana Business Daily’s ongoing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the cannabis industry, click here.