Many governments are taking drastic measures to contain the coronavirus and keep its citizens safe. The Netherlands is no different. On the 15th of March around 5 pm, their government ordered all bars and restaurants to close from at 6 pm that day until April 6. This edict included certain “coffee shops” that sold more marijuana than macchiatos.
While everyone else in the world is snatching toilet paper, the Netherlands had a different concern. Across the country, people began lining up outside coffee shops, hoping to stock up on pot before the establishments closed. 
“We were going to get groceries and saw a huge line in front of the coffee shop,” said Guntars Upis, a student in Amsterdam. “We decided to get some too, before it closed.“
As the lines formed, cannabis users weren’t the only ones to show up. Illegal dealers arrived. Weed is tolerated in the Netherlands, although it hadn’t been officially legalized. Selling it outside of established channels is a crime. Still, the dealers passed calling cards to people in line and swore by their prompt deliveries of the goods, which happened to be three times more expensive than the ones in shops.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t help everybody as we needed to close within 30 minutes,” said Bart Vollenberg, owner of two coffee shops. “Street dealers immediately jumped into the gap.”
Despite the edict, coffee shops didn’t stay closed for very long. The next day brought on an emergency meeting with mayors worried about the possible surge in street crime. The government decided that pot stores are allowed to stay open if there is only take-out and customers keep a safe distance from each other.
“It will be just like picking up a pizza,” said Hubert Bruls, mayor of Nijmegen.
Vollenberg is in a group chat with other coffee shop owners, almost 240 of them. Most of their shops, including Vollenberg’s, are now open. The pot industry plays a sizable part in the Netherlands’ economy. It draws in tourists and legal business sales make about 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) every year.
Closing down “would have meant that 5,000 to 10,000 people who work in coffee shops suddenly would be sitting at home doing nothing,” said Vollenberg. “But for now, we’re a pick-up counter. It’s pretty much business as usual.” 
Marijuana Deemed ‘Essential’
While many pubs, shopping malls, and movie theaters are closed, essential establishments are kept open, like hospitals, medical clinics, grocery stores, and the like. In some cities and states in the U.S., cannabis businesses have been declared “essential services” and will remain open during this pandemic.
For example, San Francisco, California, has ordered a “shelter-in-place” that requires everyone to stay home unless they must leave for work or do an “essential service” for the public, such as healthcare, public utilities, and emergency responses. Now, cannabis-selling is counted among those.
“In terms of the cannabis dispensaries, the Department of Public Health today clarified that since cannabis has medical uses, dispensaries will be allowed to operate as essential businesses, just as pharmacies are allowed to do,” said San Francisco’s Mayor London Breed.
According to NPR, pot shops must observe social distancing guidelines to avoid the spread of COVID-19 on their premises, meaning customers and employees must stay at least six feet away from each other whenever possible, and people should put on hand sanitizer when its available. 
Illinois, Michigan, and Colorado are among the other states who rule cannabis stores should remain open. Nevada allowed dispensaries to stay open if the owner wishes but employees must prioritize their health and remain home if they feel any symptoms of the virus. 
“Cannabis is a safe and effective treatment that millions of Americans rely on to maintain productive daily lives while suffering from diseases and ailments,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “It is the very definition of essential that these individuals can still access their medicine at this time.” 
What is Essential According to the Rest of the World?
There’s a worldwide agreement of what services are truly essential:
- Health care workers
- Law enforcement
- Utility workers
- Food production
Like cannabis, there have been other things included in this list depending on the place.
“Recent events clearly demonstrate that the process of designating ‘essential services’ is as much about culture as any legal-political reality about what is necessary to keep society functioning,” said Christopher McKnight Nichols, an associate professor of history at Oregon State University.
Here are some examples of other “essentials”:
Some U.S. states consider golf and guns as essential, partially due to the work of lobbyists.
Italy, the current epicenter of the coronavirus has the strictest rules in place with only food shops and pharmacies still open.
In France, shops that specialize in wine, cheese, and pastries are allowed to stay open.
As China gets a better hold on the outbreak, restrictions are being relaxed after everything but hospitals, grocery stores, and pharmacies were closed. For example, the Great Wall of China has partially re-opened after being closed for two months. 
On a rather dark note, New Hampshire has declared flower shops as essential, since, according to spokesman Ben Vihstadt, they provide vital services to funeral homes. 
- Associated Press. Dutch café Closures Spark Panic Buying of Pot. The Boston Globe. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/03/16/marijuana/dutch-cafe-closures-spark-panic-buying-pot/ March 16, 2020
- Ruben Munsterman. Coronavirus: Forget toilet paper – shoppers in the Netherlands are panic-buying weed. Traveller. https://www.traveller.com.au/coronavirus-forget-toilet-paper–shoppers-in-the-netherlands-are-panicbuying-weed-h1mnd4 March 19, 2020
- Brakkton Booker. Amid Coronavirus, San Francisco, New York, Deem Marijuana Businesses ‘Essential’. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2020/03/18/817779558/amid-coronavirus-san-francisco-new-york-deem-marijuana-businesses-essential March 18, 2020
- Randy Robinson. Marijuana Deemed “Essential” by US Cities and States Amid Coronavirus Crisis. Merry Jane. https://merryjane.com/news/marijuana-deemed-essential-by-us-cities-and-states-amid-coronavirus-crisis March 19, 2020
- Andrew Selsky. What’s essential in the age of coronavirus depends on which country you live in: experts. Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/6745968/essential-vs-nonessential-coronavirus/ March 28, 2020
- Global News. Coronavirus outbreak: Great Wall of China re-opens after COVID-19 shutdown https://globalnews.ca/video/6725877/coronavirus-outbreak-great-wall-of-china-re-opens-after-covid-19-shutdown/ March 24, 2020
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