Originally published on The Daily Blog 20 April 2020

Today, April 20, is known around the world as 420 Day, when cannabis consumers and supporters of sensible reform can celebrate their lifestyle together, in isolation, at 4:20pm.

This year, the entire month of April is “4/20” month too – and expectations were high, so to speak, that a month of 420’s leading into J Day would provide a foundation for activism leading into the cannabis referendum. Instead, the global coronavirus lockdown has left cannabis consumers, including Kiwi patients, without their usual access and exposed to misinformation.

So how can cannabis consumers stay safe with coronavirus still circulating?

Firstly, let’s dispel some myths (or wishful thinking): cannabis does not product against Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. CBD is not a miracle cure for this. In fact, smoking cannabis could make it worse by agitating the lungs, so try to avoid smoked forms. Bake an edible with that flour you’ve been hoarding. Smother yourself with a herbal anointing oil. Jesus did it, after all.

Certainly, sharing joints is out. Just don’t do it. This is the time you can Bogart that joint, my friend. I certainly don’t want to share a joint with anyone, so these are indeed strange times. Cannabis is an inherently social experience for most consumers. We like to sit, talk, connect and share. But this is a time to stop doing that. Stay safe in your bubble, and may it be filled with pungent vapour.TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com

Even within your bubble, it’s too risky to pass joints, glassware, vape pens or other devices used to consume cannabis —or even to be too close to someone who coughs after smoking or vaping. Patients with compromised immune systems should especially limit smoking and vaping.

All consumers should also beware of unfounded claims that cannabinoids such as CBD can treat or cure coronavirus infections, as well as potential scammers promoting similar claims.

Importantly for New Zealand, cannabis from the unregulated market may potentially possess mould, pesticides, or other unwanted adulterants that could hurt your immune system. Because New Zealand still enforced prohibition, it’s not yet possible to obtain lab-tested, regulated products.

Should cannabis be an essential service?

Most medical and adult-use cannabis jurisdictions in the U.S. have allowed licensed stores to remain open. Health officials in some two-dozen states have enacted emergency rules to ensure that state-qualified patients have uninterrupted access to cannabis products.

Many have declared legal cannabis retailers “essential” businesses, noting the need among some patients for a consistent supply of medicine and the public health risks of sending consumers flocking to unregulated markets.

In New Zealand it’s easy to see how this should apply for medicinal use, which is legal now, and regulated since 1 April. Medicinal cannabis is now treated just like any other medicine, and priority should be given to ensuring a continued supply of existing products to patients. But Covid-19 has impacted on the Ministry of Health’s ability to process new licence applications, shut down research, and reduced the ability of many licence holders to make progress on their plans.

The illicit market is less straightforward, but there is a case to be made that protecting vulnerable people from exposure to the hazards of illicit markets is more important right now than getting police to enforce drug prohibitions. This includes patients, the elderly, those with compromised health and anyone who risks community transmission.

Illicit providers often don’t put much effort into hygiene and safe handling practises – although I hear there are some very good people doing their best, in spite of the law. But rather than force consumers to seek supplies from illicit providers, there should be an immediate amnesty or moratorium on drug law enforcement, as long as people are following all rules relating to the lockdown and their bubble. Police have much better things to do right now.

What do you think? Well, researchers are now collecting data worldwide to see exactly how consumers are impacted, which could form the basis for allowing cannabis as an essential service.

How has Covid-19 affected your cannabis use?

A team of researchers affiliated with the University of Miami is collecting epidemiological data to better evaluate how cannabis consumers, and patients in particular, are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Investigators are seeking respondents to participate in an anonymous online survey to evaluate whether consumers have experienced changes in their frequency of cannabis use, dosing, access, or preferred methods of ingestion as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown or other emergency actions. Answers are kept strictly confidential and it only takes 5 to 10 minutes to complete the survey.

Dr. Denise C. Vidot, who is leading the study, said “If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that population-based data is vital to make informed decisions. So, we are combining our skills to do our part to provide that data. Our goal is to have cannabis users from every country complete this survey, so the data is more generalizable.”

The survey is online here.

Meanwhile, coronavirus concerns and lockdowns will force cannabis law reform advocates to find new ways of organising our campaigns. I’ll write soon about how Covid-19 will impact our campaign for the a Yes vote in the New Zealand cannabis referendum.

Celebrate 420 Day with these online events

Any time today – but especially at 4:20pm – it’s a great time to celebrate cannabis and how far we have come, and remember all those who have gone before us and upon whose shoulders we stand, including those in prison or who have died waiting for access and the advocates who have got us all so close to legalisation.

Due to our timezone, New Zealand has the first 420 in the world. Here are some online events you can stream at home with like-minded people around New Zealand and all over the world:

  • I Love 420 – Living room Lovefest: our very own Dakta Green is kicking off a global series of 420’s, around the world in 24 hours, with each time zone hosting when it’s their 4:20pm. Starts at 4pm today on iHeartradio and e360tv.
  • Time to Legalise – couch chat with former Greens MP and trustee of the ‘Make It Legal” campaign Nandor Tanczos. He’ll be talking to NSW Greens MP Cate Faehrmann at 4:20 Canberra time, which is 6:20pm New Zealand time. Watch live on Facebook or Zoom.
  • Sacred Solidarity – a free online festival supporting COVID-19 Mutual Aid Efforts and celebrating reciprocity and our connection with Earth and each other on Bicycle Day. Donations raise funds for psychedelic reform. Speakers include Alex and Alison Grey, Rick Dobin (MAPS), there are movies to stream, musicians and an online after party.
  • Los Angeles NORML is hosting a party for their 50th Anniversary, streaming at lanorml.org and on youtube from 10:30am today New Zealand Time. The celebration of 50 years of cannabis advocacy includes Tommy Chong, Todd McCormick, Gelato breeder Mr Sherbinski and NORML founder Keith Stroup.
  • Nightmares on Wax – a 420 special IGTV live stream “celebrating 25 years of Smokers Delight” with Daddy G of Massive Attack. This will be tomorrow, New Zealand Time, but you’re encouraged to start early!

Whatever you do for 420 today, stay safe in your bubble and may it be filled with pungent vapour.

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Chris Fowlie is the CEO of Zeacann Limited, a medicinal cannabis producer; co-founder of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council; president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws NZ Inc; co-founder of The Hempstore Aotearoa; resident expert for Marijuana Media on 95bFM; cannabis blogger for The Daily Blog, and court-recognised independent expert witness for cannabis. The opinions expressed here are his own.

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By Chris

NORML President - contact me to help