Because of the coronavirus, Berkeley Patients Group has shut down and is shifting to delivery only. Photo: Berkeley Patients Group

Update, March 27, 5:40 p.m. Berkeley has reversed its decision to stop cannabis businesses from doing curbside pick-up. Dr. Lisa Hernandez amended her order late Friday after she realized that getting cannabis deliveries may not be an option for some people who rely on cannabis, according to Matthai Chakko, a city spokesman. The new order goes into effect at midnight.

Original story: Berkeley has ordered its cannabis dispensaries to stop serving customers in stores and to turn to a delivery-only model.

Jordan Klein, Berkeley’s economic development manager, sent out an email to that effect Wednesday at 6:21 p.m. He said Dr. Lisa Hernandez, the city’s public health officer, had made the decision.

The order took most cannabis businesses by surprise, and some have appealed to Mayor Jesse Arreguín to intervene. Only one cannabis businesses in Berkeley has delivery service, so the mandate means others will have to close, according to Etienne Fontan, vice-president and co-owner of Berkeley Patients Group, which has delivery service.

“Access has been shut off to thousands of people who need or want access,” said Fontan. “Patients and people have had no problems until the health department decided to arbitrarily make this decision last night.”

Why can restaurants continue to offer curbside pick-up and not cannabis businesses?, Fontan asked.

Dispensaries have been operating on the assumption they are classified as an essential business by California, according to Lori Katz, the manager of Hi Fidelity on Telegraph Avenue.

Martin O’Brien, the founder of Patient’s Care Collective (PCC) on Telegraph Avenue, said the order is devastating. The 19-year-old dispensary does not do deliveries and many of its customers are older and couldn’t adapt to ordering cannabis on the internet anyway, he said.

“It’s going to kill our business,” he said. “It’s going to shove everything to delivery services.”

Even if PCC wanted to start delivering to customers, it would take time to gear up. Moreover, there are stringent state requirements the dispensary would have to comply with in order to deliver to people’s homes.

Curbside delivery at PCC. Photo: PCC

However, PCC is still open for business today, O’Brian said. The dispensary moved its operations outdoors last week to allow for greater social distancing for customers, he said. Sales will continue until he has a more specific shutdown order, he said.

Hi Fidelity is already shut down, said Marc Weinstein, who co-owns the operation as well as three Amoeba Record stores in California. He laid off his 35 employees soon after he got Berkeley’s email. Those layoffs are on top the 300 people who were laid off at Amoeba.

“It’s so annoying we have to close,” said Weinstein. “We had a good system going curbside and we got shut down out of the blue. What is this?”

And he thinks curbside delivery offers more opportunity than home delivery to suppress germs.

“Delivery is unquestionably more risky than what we do,” said Weinstein. “We are able to handle all these packaged goods with gloves and can wash after every sale, etc.”

Farmacy Berkeley just opened in early February after many years of work. Now it will have to close its doors to walk-in customers after Berkeley has ordered all cannabis operations to turn to a delivery-only model.  Photo: Kelly Sullivan

The Cannabis Action Network condemned the action.

“There is no rational public health or safety benefit to this decision,” the group said on its website. “Cannabis retailers pose no more of a public threat to the community than grocery stores, pharmacies or restaurants. Liquor stores even remain open to the public.”

Arreguīn is concerned about the order and is trying to get the city to at least allow curbside pick-up, according to Stefan Elgstrand, one of the mayor’s aides.

“The Mayor spoke with the City Manager yesterday evening and had requested that staff reconsider the decision on curbside pickup, and follow the direction of other cities such as San Francisco, which allows this,” Elgstrand wrote in an email.

Berkeleyside has reached out to the city manager’s office for more information. Klein said the order was rooted in the city’s shelter-in-place order of March 16.

Cannabis sales have been brisk

BPG has been busy since the shelter-in-place order went into effect on March 17, said Fontan. The San Pablo Avenue dispensary has seen 300 to 500 customers a day. The company allows 10 people inside at a time. Cashiers and clerks wear gloves and the countertops and cash registers and other areas are sanitized regularly, he said. A lot of its business was being conducted through curbside pick-up.

“We’ve been doing everything the city has asked up to do,” he said.

People need cannabis in these uncertain times, said O’Brien. The day before the shelter-in-place order went into effect, his dispensary was packed. The business has been brisk since then.

“People are consuming more food,” he said. “People are consuming more data. People are consuming more marijuana. People are consuming more alcohol.”

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...