Free sporting tickets, gaming systems, scholarships, airline tickets, cash, alcohol and marijuana are just a few of the incentives offered to encourage people to get a COVID-19 vaccination in Washington.
That’s right, free pot for a shot. A free toke in exchange for a poke, or at least one pre-roll joint and a discount on other purchases, which was what several cannabis retailers made available this summer as part of a statewide push to reduce COVID and increase vaccination numbers.
“In May I had conversations with local health providers about offering a vaccine clinic in our shop,” wrote Apex Cannabis owner Stacey Peterson in an email. “Shortly thereafter, I testified before the LCB (Liquor and Cannabis Board) requesting that they expedite rolling out a program that the Governor had approved and sent for rule-making called Joints for Jabs.”
Joints for Jabs became a reality in early June, when the LCB opted to forego some of its own rules for a limited amount of time, with the approval of Gov. Jay Inslee.
“The Governor’s office was encouraging all the agencies, including us, to do whatever they can to get people vaccinated,” said Brian Smith, director of communications for the LCB. “Rulemaking would have taken far too long for the time frame so we said what we’re going to do is not enforce provisions for a limited amount of time. This is about getting people vaccinated, it’s not about consumption.”
A lot of the credit for this program goes to Apex’s Peterson, according to Smith.
“She had really done her field work in advance. She did it all right: She talked to public health folks, allayed concerns, showed them what she wanted to do. So we adopted what she was asking for; a lifting or easing of the rules to allow one free joint to customers who got vaccinated on site.”
Peterson said the response to its clinics was huge: 149 total.
Apex held two more vaccination clinics in June and another in July. Smith says cannabis businesses weren’t required to report to the LCB if they hosted a vaccination clinic, so he’s not sure how many took place statewide before rules returned to normal after July 12.
Spokane-area residents were able to visit Cannabis & Glass locations, which also offered a variety of clinics in June, and provided about 24 vaccinations.
Green2Go in the Tri-Cities offered a discount for adults that showed their vaccination card for a first and a second shot. Uncle Ike’s locations in the Seattle area also held immunization clinics that included a visit by an ice cream truck.
Smith says that initially some cannabis businesses told him they were having a hard time finding a health care provider willing to partner with an industry that still isn’t federally recognized. Spokane Regional Health District reported concerns about possibly running afoul of federal regulations if it was involved.
“A lot of local health providers were nervous about doing this … we had been working with the Department of Health to try to find a way to help line up a provider with a retailer,” Smith said. “They (Department of Health) agreed and put out a message to all providers and said if you want to help with a clinic, let us know and we will put you on a list we can provide to cannabis companies,” said Smith.
Peterson said she extremely happy with Consistent Care, their vaccination partner.
“It’s an incredible organization with a very compelling mission,” she said. “They serve people who are frequent users of emergency departments who need assistance navigating the health care and social service systems.”
At the Apex clinic, participants first could choose between the Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccines, then pick what “prize” they wanted.
“They were allowed to pick any single joint of their choice,” Peterson wrote. “Those who pre-registered and were vaccinated received a 25% discount on Apex merchandise, and those who walked in and were vaccinated received a 15% discount.”
A second set of clinics in late June upped the discount to 30% for those who pre-registered and 20% for walk-ins. In addition, Consistent Care gave $50 Visa debit cards to each person who was vaccinated, sponsored by the Association of Washington Business and the Washington State Chamber of Commerce.
Smith says rules were changed at the start of the pandemic, also to help cannabis businesses and workers challenged by the pandemic. This included allowing customers to pick up cannabis orders curbside and allowing children of a certain age to be present at grow sites when childcare centers were closed.
Washington wasn’t alone in allowing cannabis as an incentive to get vaccinated. States such as New York, Michigan, Arizona and Washington, D.C., had similar programs. Washington also allowed breweries, wineries and restaurants to give a free alcoholic drink in exchange for proof of vaccination.
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