As the U.S. eases out of the coronavirus pandemic, marijuana, CBD and hemp retailers are slowly adjusting their store protocols for customer-mandated mask-wearing, social distancing and other requirements.

Many still require customers – particularly those who haven’t been vaccinated – to wear masks or adhere to other COVID-19 protocols, according to an informal survey by MJBizDaily.

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But plenty of retailers have dropped such requirements, as states and cities have eased their coronavirus-related guidelines for businesses. It’s a quickly evolving situation that has retailers pivoting.

“Just like that, our policies have changed,” Thomas Winstanley, vice president of marketing for Massachusetts-based Theory Wellness, wrote in an email to MJBizDaily on Thursday.

“Starting Saturday (May 29), we WILL be abiding by the state policies of allowing customers and patients to visit us without masks and without social distancing. We will still be requiring Theory staff to wear masks, but customers will not be asked to do so,” noted Winstanley, whose company operates three cannabis shops in Massachusetts and another three in Maine.

The change is a significant coronavirus-era shift from the company policy of requiring all customers to wear masks while visiting their six stores.

Theory Wellness is only one example of how marijuana retailers across the country have been pivoting on oft-controversial coronavirus restrictions for shopping at stores, which have included limiting customer numbers indoors, minimum social distancing spaces, and mandatory mask-wearing.

Policies vary by state

While many retailers in California, for instance, still require both masks and social distancing for customers, that’s far from true across every state market with operational marijuana or hemp-derived CBD stores.

According to an informal online poll of 163 retailers conducted recently by MJBizDaily:

  • 50% still require both masks and social distancing for customers to enter their stores.
  • 13% require masks but no social distancing.
  • 17% have a cap on the number of customers allowed in a store at any point.
  • 20% have no COVID-related restrictions.

Multistate operators in particular say navigating fast-changing mask mandates across jurisdictions has been a logistical nightmare.

But it’s one they’re used to after more than a year of juggling shifting health regulations through the pandemic.

At CBD American Shaman, a Missouri-based hemp and cannabinoid retailer with 365 stores in 38 states, most of them franchises, store managers have been sent signs for locations in jurisdictions with loosened mask mandates.

“We want everyone to feel comfortable,” said Vince Sanders, CEO of American Shaman CBD.

“We have signs up saying masks are now optional, but if you would prefer masks, please say so and we will happily put masks on to serve you.”

The policy offers flexibility for his franchisees and store managers, who are authorized to maintain mask requirements if they so choose, even in jurisdictions that have abandoned mandatory mask-wearing.

“We told everyone, ‘If you’re more comfortable keeping the mask mandate, that’s great, we have no problem with that.’

“Some people aren’t ready yet, or they’re immuno-compromised. And that’s fine.”

In the conservative state of Oklahoma, Denise Mink’s Med Pharm dispensary just outside of Tulsa never had a mask mandate, even at the height of the pandemic, because no such order was given by the state’s governor or by her city, Broken Arrow.

“Nobody believes in COVID, so even though we wore masks, the county we’re in – we’re not in Tulsa County, we’re Wagoner County – they never made it a thing that you had to wear masks,” said Mink, who added that she and her staff were constantly encouraging patients to use the dispensary’s drive-thru window instead of entering the store.

“We told everyone, we’d rather you wear a mask, and a lot of them did. A lot of them did not. If they coughed, we sent them out and said, ‘Go through the drive-thru,'” Mink recalled.

“We felt we couldn’t make that a requirement. We wore them, our staff wore them, but if we had (a mask requirement), our business would have tanked.”

These days, her staff is still giving out masks to patients as an option, and vendors have returned to her store to provide product demos for MMJ patients, as life is slowly easing back into normalcy.

Michigan is another state where mask mandates have largely been lifted, and so retailers are changing their policies.

In Ann Arbor, Arborside CEO Rhory Gould said his shop isn’t requiring masks for customers anymore because the state changed its guidance.

“Things have eased up lately, because Michigan just said you don’t have to wear masks indoors anymore,” Gould said, adding that he and his staff still wear masks in the store out of an abundance of caution.

Gould added that the biggest change for his business is the now-ongoing curbside-pickup option for customers, a practice that was strictly forbidden before the coronavirus outbreak.

California, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina mixed on masks

In many states, there’s a mixture of policies, often depending on the city.

In Illinois and Nevada, for instance, some retailers are taking customers at their word if they say they’ve been vaccinated and letting them enter stores without wearing masks.

But unvaccinated customers are still required to wear masks.

That’s a policy shared by one of the largest marijuana stores in the world – Planet 13 in Las Vegas – and a neighborhood recreational cannabis shop in north Chicago, Dispensary33.

Dispensary33, however, also runs a medical marijuana dispensary in a different Chicago location where masks are still required for all customers to protect immune-compromised patients who also might be visiting.

“Our first location is medical and recreational, and (the) second location is just recreational, so we have a little bit of different policies at the two stores,” Dispensary33 Marketing Director Abigail Watkins said.

“Our new recreational location, all of our staff is wearing masks, and we do have a sign that says to please wear a mask, but if someone comes in and is fully vaccinated … they can shop without a mask.”

Planet 13 is still asking customers to be mindful of social distancing and is limiting the number of people in the store to 80% of capacity.

The retailer also is requiring masks for unvaccinated visitors, but it’s basically an honor system, said the company’s vice president of marketing, David Farris.

“We’re not going to follow them home or to get their shot,” he said. “We inform them of our policy and what the state’s policy is, and it’s almost an honor system to adhere.”

In California, San Jose-based Caliva – which runs three stores across the state – Chief Operating Officer Dennis O’Malley said, “While we still have mask mandates and practice social distancing for in-store shopping, we see customers who have previously ordered from caliva.com continue to prefer delivery or curbside-pickup options mainly because of the convenience.”

“We are seeing the return of new customers venturing back out into stores as both travel and office work looks to be picking up,” O’Malley added.

And in North Carolina, vertically integrated hemp products retailer Franny’s Farmacy began allowing vaccinated customers to shop without a mask as of May 20, according to CEO Franny Tacy.

But, like so many other retailers, Franny’s Farmacy is asking unvaccinated customers to keep wearing masks, Tacy noted in an email to MJBizDaily.

John Schroyer can be reached at john.schroyer@mjbizdaily.com.

Kristen Nichols can be reached at kristen.nichols@hempindustrydaily.com.