Cannabis companies are hustling to stay afloat and turn a profit just like every other business, but for Dr. Chanda Macias, the ramifications of the economic downturn are much more personal.
Mothers like her rely on medicinal cannabis for treating their children's ailments. As CEO of Women Grow, an outreach group dedicated to educating patients on the cannabis and hemp sector, she hears firsthand how an already tough situation was made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
"Mothers call me and ask 'how can I get help for my child?'" Macias told me. "This is about their health."
Fewer dispensaries means fewer patients are able to get safe and legal access to cannabidiol — CBD — medicine, Macias said.
Some markets allowed cannabis companies to continue operating with curbside pickup or home deliveries, but in other regions it was a struggle to get on that "essential business" list.
Cannabis Businesses Fight For 'Essential Business' Label
In Massachusetts, cannabis companies threatened to sue Gov. Charlie Baker after he demanded that recreational marijuana stores remain closed as part of a stay-at-home advisory.
Getting labeled an "essential business" in Louisiana — where Macias' company Ilera Holistic Healthcare is based — was also a headache.
"We had to fight to be labeled 'essential businesses,'" Macias said. "We had to go and stand our ground in terms of legislation."
For pot purveyors, this is another day at the office in the U.S., where laws vary state-by-state and keeping up with regulations and compliance is not only daunting, but expensive.
“Many cannabis businesses are struggling, though not all the blame resides in faulty management decisions,” GreenWave Advisors Founder Matt Karnes recently wrote. The cost of federal prohibition "continues to erode cash flows" at a time when sources of capital are increasingly more difficult to access, he said.
Federal Law Continues To Haunt Cannabis
In the U.S., CBD is medically legal in 33 states plus Washington, D.C. Eleven of those states allow recreational use. Sill, it's considered entirely illegal by the federal government.
"It is a very confusing thing," said Macias. "It was explained that, basically, the states can function as we want as it relates to medical marijuana, as the federal government turns a blind eye on it, but still treats it as an illegal operation."
This puts parents who have children in need of treatment at a disadvantage. If they're in states where CBD is illegal, they become "refugees" and cross state lines, or even travel abroad, for legal access.
If nothing changes on the legal side, these scenarios are likely to become common as more moms consider CBD as a treatment.
According to a report published by Oasis Intelligence in April, over half (54%) of cannabis-using moms agree with people providing children — under 17 years old — cannabis for pain relief and medical treatments, so long as it's monitored by a parent or guardian. Some 46% of cannabis-using dads feel the same way.
"Simply put, cannabis [and] hemp-using moms are the biggest proponents of children learning about the plant, discussing it with them, and even using it for medical treatments as monitored by a parent or guardian," Oasis spokesperson Laura Albers said in an email.
Dads are the least likely to support the usage of either cannabis or hemp CBD to children, the report continued.
This could be due to moms being the primary medical and wellness caretaker in families and indicating increased willingness to try more natural healing modalities than fathers, Albers added.
Over the years, many providers like Macias have encountered patients experimenting with CBD for a wide range of conditions. So while the debate continues among lawmakers, Macias maintains that parents generally feel differently and long for special consideration to be made for pediatric use.
"Think of mothers with children who have autism — that's a major condition along with epilepsy — and they’re using cannabis to treat their children," Macias said.
Crohn's disease and other IB syndromes are also qualifying conditions to recommend cannabis as a solution, Macias said, citing her son as an example. Treatments would be more readily available if her line of work was treated like any other business, she said.
Right now, cannabis companies don't enjoy the perks of other small businesses. They can't write off business expenses, such as rent or travel, or use commercial banks, nixing credit or debit card transactions.
Also, funding channels that a typical small business could use are limited, and private equity firms tend to be "predatorial," Macias said.
Cannabis Left Behind By Coronavirus Relief Programs
The stakes are even higher now that the industry is struggling on the heels of the COVID-19 outbreak, and cannabis companies are not eligible for federal financial relief.
"We’re not being treated any where near as equals even though we have the same issues as everyone else," Macias said.
"It’s unbelievable what we have to do to stay operational and help patients that truly need a health care solution. Patients are experiencing all kinds of anxiety, PTSD, depression, mourning the deaths of loved ones and we can't do that properly."
The hope is that the call for reform is answered through Macias' work, whether it's through Women Grow or the National Cannabis Roundtable Board, of which she is vice chair.
Some 44 members of the U.S. House are looking to help cannabis professionals access relief funds through the Small Business Administration. The Trump administration continues to maintain an anti-marijuana policy.
"To navigate all these challenges, it’s overwhelming," Macias said. "Day to day, you do what you can, but our fight is just beginning."
Dr. Chanda Macias. Courtesy photo.