Photo: Colin Robinson/Getty
Like in many other states, Pennsylvania’s medical weed industry and its near 9,000 employees were exempt from the COVID-19 economic shutdown. To encourage social distancing, the state has relaxed restrictions on the industry, increasing purchasing allowances for its 147,000 medical cannabis patients and allowing dispensaries to offer delivery and curbside pickup services. We spoke to one of them about supplying the state’s dispensaries in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
I’ve been working for a grower-processor in Pennsylvania since last summer. Our delivery vans go as far out as Philly, Harrisburg, Erie, Pittsburgh—pretty much every corner of the state. I personally deliver to between 15 and 20 dispensaries in a given week. I make about $17 an hour.Maybe 200 employees work in the big-grow facility. There used to be just one shift, but now they’ve split the work into a daytime shift and a nighttime shift, so everybody isn’t in the building at the same time. As far as I know, that’s the only real change the company has made since the pandemic started. My hours haven’t changed. In fact, if anything, they’ve been more consistent, because the orders have definitely been larger. People are starting to panic-buy their supplies.Today was pretty heavy. Workers at the dispensaries said they didn’t get their rush until this week. We saw lines wrapping around the buildings at some dispensaries. Many dispensaries have systems for curbside pickup set up already, so people are forming lines in their cars. Two weeks ago, we had orders from some dispensaries that were double or triple their usual size. Even more noticeably, we’ve been making deliveries to dispensaries that we hadn’t visited at all for four or five months prior to this.I work four days a week, on a crew of five or six drivers. We pair up: always two people in each van. As soon as the coronavirus was in the news, we started talking about it in the vans. We were watching where each case was confirmed, keeping track of which counties the virus was in, so we could make decisions about where not to stop for gas.
I became more and more concerned, mainly because of my fiancé. Her treatment for a pre-existing medical condition makes her very immunosuppressed. I’m worried about bringing it home to her. I had a conversation with my direct supervisor when this all started. He told me: “If you’re showing symptoms, don’t come in. Just stay home.” But when I asked if we would get paid leave he chuckled and said, “no, of course not.”The mood at the dispensaries was different after the governor’s shutdown order. The first dispensary we went to we were met by employees wearing masks and gloves. That’s when it hit us that things were going to be a little different from here on out.We have a good stock of cleaning supplies in the vans now, but we had to ask for it. We have gloves and one surgical mask a day, just the thin blue ones. The company also gave us safety goggles, but they’re kind of worthless to be honest.It’s pretty scary in Pennsylvania. The whole southeastern part of the state [where Philadelphia is located] has a stay-at-home order in place, as do counties in the southwest near Pittsburgh. When we have to go to the Philly area I’m nervous all day. Gas stations have started shutting stores down because cashiers have confirmed cases of coronavirus. My own county just doubled in confirmed cases a few days ago. One good thing is traffic is pretty much dead everywhere, which gives me hope that people are taking this seriously.Some guys I work with are just as concerned as I am. It’s pretty much the only topic we discuss throughout the day. I think it would be more than fair for us to have some hazard pay, for the risks we’re taking. At the very least we need paid sick leave.Last week, I tried to communicate with my supervisors about my concerns. I told them drivers were facing a lot of risk—driving all over the state in pandemic conditions, interacting closely with people at the dispensaries and gas stations. But nothing about our job has really changed. I’m lucky to have health insurance through the job. But if I were to get sick, I don’t know how much it would cost me to take a test and get treatment. Our co-pays are expensive. Even with the insurance I have, we would have trouble paying for those things up front.I hope it doesn’t get so bad that I’m forced to outright refuse to go in. But I have thought about that. If the pandemic continues like this, there definitely will be a breaking point.