Marijuana workers get priority for COVID-19 vaccine before teachers in California’s rollout

Medical marijuana workers – including delivery drivers and retail employees – are being pushed to near the front of the line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Cannabis industry employees are included in Phase 1a for medicinal cannabis,” reads a notice from the California Department of Public Health issued Saturday. Growers, producers and others involved in the distribution process will be included in Phase 1b – where food and agricultural workers are currently placed.

But some essential workers, namely teachers, are expressing concern over the prioritization of cannabis dispensers – especially as the debate to reopen schools rages on in the state. Teachers are currently in Phase 1b of coronavirus vaccine distribution.

The state is inoculating individuals who qualify under Phases 1a and 1b. That said, individuals in Phase 1b are being vaccinated “as supplies allow,” according to the state.

“Cannabis delivery drivers before school bus drivers and teachers?” asked Austin Beutner, Los Angeles schools superintendent, in a tweet. “Makes no sense to me.”

Some Southern California counties, reported the Orange County Register, are not adhering to the state mandate, either. A representative from the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management did not immediately respond to a request for comment from SFGATE.

Cannabis advocates, per KOVR in Sacramento, explained that their placement on Phase 1a was due to working with seniors and other vulnerable communities to dispense medicinal marijuana.

“We have been open, we have been working with the public,” Kimberly Cargile, CEO for a Sacramento dispensary, told KOVR.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed out guidelines for safely reopening schools – especially among lower grade levels – teachers still prefer vaccinations and reduced caseloads before coming back to campus. California Teachers Association president E. Toby Boyd also emphasized the caveat that the CDC “strongly encouraged states to prioritize teachers and other school staff to get vaccinated.”

“[W]e have to get shots in the arms of employees who are required to report in-person and before the students return to campus,” Boyd said in a statement. (The CTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment from SFGATE.)

Last week, the San Francisco Unified School District and its staffers negotiated on a proposal to re-enter campuses when the county has reached substantial COVID-19 spread, or the Red Tier, with a vaccine, or the Orange Tier, indicating moderate spread, without one. (Currently, San Francisco is in the Purple Tier, indicating widespread risk of spread.)

In California, more than 6.1 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered – at a rate of more than 200,000 a day, per Bloomberg’s COVID-19 tracker.

The California Cannabis Industry Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment from SFGATE.

Joshua Bote