Sara Milligan’s jab was provided by Johnson & Johnson on Thursday.
Her joint was a grape-flavored strain from Blue Roots Cannabis in Airway Heights, wrapped in a Cordia leaf.
“I put all my faith in the budtender,” said Milligan, one of the first visitors to get their COVID-19 vaccination at a clinic organized by Apex Cannabis. The retailer, with three locations in Spokane County, is participating in the state’s “Joints for Jabs” promotion, sanctioned by the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board, allowing members of the regulated market to provide pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes to customers who get their shots.
Stacey Peterson, founder and licensee holder for Apex, said the company has paid for advertisements of the event and isn’t receiving compensation to offset the costs of the joints given away.
“It has been a significant investment of time, energy and funds to make this vaccination clinic successful,” said Peterson, who watched as a line of visitors waiting for their shots inside the North Division Street store began to grow late Thursday morning. “But it’s worth it, because we get to be part of the solution.”
The Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board isn’t tracking the retailers in the state who are participating in the program, said Brian Smith, communications manager for the agency, in an email. Some businesses hoping to participate have raised concerns about the challenging logistics of holding a clinic inside a shop and the short timetable to hold the events, which must be completed by July 12 under the state guidance.
The board clarified that retailers can hold events in their parking lots on Thursday. Smith said the reason the clinics need to be held on-site has to do with the oversight authority of the LCB.
“The store is the only area where a licensee can conduct business and the store and parking (lot) is the limit of our authority,” Smith wrote.
Peterson chose her Division Street location out of the three Apex shops because of its larger floor space, accommodating a pair of tables and members of a local private vaccine clinic provider to administer shots. Those receiving vaccines could wait in chairs inside the store, their 15-minute waiting periods measured off by kitchen timers.
For Milligan, a frequent customer at Apex, the draw was convenience, not necessarily the promise of a free joint. She works a couple of blocks away, and her hectic work schedule has made it difficult to schedule a vaccine, she said.
“There was really no convincing,” Milligan said. “This is a convenience for me. I have been essential throughout this whole thing.”
Other area retailers are hoping to entice customers to get a shot, even without the direct cooperation of the Spokane Regional Health District. Concern about the potential loss of federal funding, and a conflict of interest with the district’s “Weed to Know” underage use campaign, has kept it from coordinating with marijuana retailers on vaccine efforts, said Kelli Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the district.
Cannabis & Glass will hold two days of free walk-up clinics at three of its locations next Thursday and Friday, said Marshall Piatt, director of corporate operations for the retailer. Visitors will need a valid identification proving they’re over 21 and will be offered a free single-gram joint after they’ve received their shot.
“You don’t have to get a joint,” Piatt said. “We can give people a joint. If someone wants to just come in and get a shot, more power to them.”
Piatt said Cannabis & Glass wanted to hold its vaccination clinic before the Fourth of July weekend, as a way to get more people protected as summer progresses and COVID-19 restrictions loosen.
Vicki Christophersen, executive director and lobbyist of the trade group Washington Cannabusiness Association, said she’s pushing for the state to extend the deadline for the clinics and consider allowing customers to present their proof of vaccination to receive a promotional product.
“We think we do represent a demographic that would be helpful to reach out to,” Christophersen said.
Peterson said she was pleased with the early demand. Apex is asking people to register online at apexcannabis.com/jointsforjabs, but will also take walk-ups. In the 45 minutes prior to the clinic’s starting time, five more people signed up for shots Thursday using the website.
Apex ended the day vaccinating 29 people, with 28 preregistered to get shots on Friday, Peterson said.
Milligan praised the growing line of people waiting for shots as she sat during her mandatory 15-minute wait in the store Thursday. She said she didn’t understand resistance to getting the shot, after watching a co-worker come down with COVID-19 during the pandemic and prompting concerns about her own well-being.
“This is a great idea, considering cannabis is a big part of our Evergreen State,” she said.