Often the intention is good, but the execution is all wrong. Or, in the case of Washington’s push for more vaccinations, full of unintended obstacles. The state has been offering a number of incentives to get people motivated to get vaccinated. Although the state is ahead of the U.S. in dealing with COVID-19, with 51.1 percent of state residents already vaccinated, while the entire country lags behind at 44.6 percent, some state and local leaders thought it would be a great idea to offer “Joints for Jabs” — a free joint when you get vaccinated. Unfortunately for retailers and Washingtonians, the program has hit several speed bumps that have made it almost unusable.
First, the state required a vaccination clinic to be set up on the site of a dispensary. That’s different than the requirements for bars, also tasked with a free drink giveaway for those vaccinated, but customers only need to show their vaccination cards. As dispensaries complained, officials pointed out that since weed can’t be used at the dispensary, it’s likely that people would just grab a free joint and either sell it or give it away, presumably to minors who couldn’t ordinarily obtain such a thing in a dispensary themselves.
While it makes sense not to just throw joints out the door without ensuring they’re going to the right person, medical professionals have been reluctant to set up a clinic in a dispensary because (guess what?) weed is still Federally illegal. It’s possible that a doctor or practice could jeopardize any federal dollars they receive by involving themselves in a dispensary in any way. Given the short timeframe for the program, which expires in mid-July, it’s unlikely the red tape would be untangled by then.
But adding to that red tape is the simple fact that between now and mid-July there’s very little opportunity to get a second dose of the major vaccines for coronavirus, which makes the July 12 deadline all the less tenable. It’s not that dispensaries don’t want to participate, as the Associate Press reports the owner of a Seattle dispensary said they were eager to help boost vaccinations but, “disappointed that our legal and heavily regulated sector continues to be treated differently than our peer sectors in Washington.”
It’s that incongruence between state and federal legalities that has once again stymied larger health initiatives. Despite the 2018 Farm Bill making hemp legal, marijuana is still classified as having no medical benefit. The only ray of hope lately seems to be Senate leadership signaling earlier this year that it would take on legalization at some point. That would clear all of the obstacles for clinic providers. It would be up to city or state leaders to allow joints to be smoked on the premises of a dispensary, something that is unlikely to happen after years of anti-tobacco programs pushed all smoking outdoors.
Luckily Washington state’s vaccination rates are already good, and it’s unclear if this would have made a huge dent in the numbers. Still, with over 500 licensed dispensaries, it does seem like an opportunity squandered.