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Newport cannabis business using extra ethanol to make needed hand sanitizer to combat COVID-19

UPDATED: Thu., March 26, 2020

A prototype bottle of New Day Wellness Hand Sanitizer is seen in this March 25, 2020 photo. Newport cannabis company New Day is bottling the sanitizer with ethanol that would typically be used to produce extracts or tinctures for sale in retail marijuana stores. (Joe Rammell / Courtesy photo)
A prototype bottle of New Day Wellness Hand Sanitizer is seen in this March 25, 2020 photo. Newport cannabis company New Day is bottling the sanitizer with ethanol that would typically be used to produce extracts or tinctures for sale in retail marijuana stores. (Joe Rammell / Courtesy photo)

Even though marijuana retailers are still open across the state of Washington, cannabis business owner Joe Rammell looked at his supply of ethanol for extracts and thought it could be put to better use.

“We watch the news like everybody else,” Rammell, owner of New Day Cannabis near Newport, said by phone Wednesday. “We really can’t make masks. We can’t manufacture ventilators.”

What his workers can make with their available products is hand sanitizer, and Rammell’s businesses are joining a growing list of companies, including local liquor distilleries, getting into the disinfecting business. Rammell has put together a prototype of a 70% alcohol hand sanitizer under the brand name New Day Wellness, a companion firm specializing in cannabidiol (CBD) and hemp tinctures.

Rammell said he wanted to release a product that had been manufactured by professionals and could be sold to local health care firms and governments at a discount, as shortages of bacteria- and virus-killing solutions mount. He was also worried about homemade sanitizers that don’t meet sterilizing standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“You don’t need a chemistry degree to make this stuff, but you need to know what you’re doing,” Rammell said.

The company has reached out to state officials and health care groups, including hospitals, to make them aware of their ability to produce and bottle the sanitizer, Rammell said. He hopes to start shipping 8-ounce bottles as early as Monday. Customers will be able to purchase the sanitizer directly from the company’s website, newday-wellness.com.

Ethanol is frequently used by producers of both recreational cannabis products, high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and products high in CBD, another chemical present in plants of the cannabis family, including hemp. It’s also used to produce liquor in distilleries and is the main ingredient in sanitizers that destroy the structures of microbes, like viruses and bacteria, on your hands.

The state of Washington has identified hand sanitizers and disinfecting sprays on its list of items in high demand to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Rammell said the decision to shift some of his resources to hand sanitizer production was fueled by a desire to help, and also to keep his workers employed. While marijuana stores have remained open, some of the assistance available for other small businesses through the federal government in the form of loans won’t be accessible for the industry because of the federal government’s classification of marijuana as an illegal drug.

Brian Smith, a spokesman at the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board, said the agency has outlined guidance from the Food and Drug Administration for liquor distillers hoping to produce sanitizer during the pandemic. But it wasn’t clear whether that guidance could be followed by cannabis businesses in the state, he wrote in an email.

Still, Rammell pointed out there’s an unprecedented demand for sanitizing products. He’s mentioned his plan to people at grocery stores and banks in rural Pend Oreille County, where his businesses operate on a 10-acre plot near Newport, and everyone’s expressed enthusiasm, he said.

“No one’s turning their nose up at us because we’re a cannabis company,” Rammell said.

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