California prioritizes hashish employees, veterinarians for vaccinations

Medical marijuana workers now have priority access to the coronavirus vaccine, as per revised California guidelines.

The state’s Department of Health recently appeared to give some medical cannabis workers the first place – known as 1a – of vaccination priorities.

That would equate them with health care workers, nursing home staff, and residents.

However, the instructions were inconsistent. “The staff of the cannabis industry are included in phase 1a for medical cannabis and in phase 1b for food and agriculture for cultivation, production, storage, transport and distribution,” says the document. In the next sentence, however, the guidance seems to put medical cannabis workers on the bottom tier as well. “Medical cannabis workers should be placed in Phase 1b, Level 1, based on their designation in eligible essential workforce classifications as needed.”

Many counties are currently vaccinating people in the Phase 1b Tier 1 group – which includes people 65 and over – but not all groups deemed eligible by the state are necessarily counted due to vaccine shortages.

The San Francisco COVID Command Center said its “primary focus is currently on vaccinating the 65-year-old and older population as it accounts for only 15 percent of the population but over 83 percent of all deaths,” but did not say whether cannabis workers excluded from this would be the top level of the vaccination rollout.

San Mateo County said it was following state guidelines. None of the other Bay Area counties immediately responded Wednesday to inquiries as to whether they would prioritize medical cannabis workers in their vaccination plans.

In response to The Chronicle’s request about the updated rules, the California Department of Health appeared to state that marijuana workers are likely to be placed in Stage 1b, Tier 1, as many workers in Stage 1a are already vaccinated.

Cannabis companies said that some pharmacies treat hundreds of patients every day, many of whom are elderly and immunocompromised – those who are most likely to become seriously ill if infected with the coronavirus.

“For the past nine months, industrial workers have provided essential medicines to thousands of Californians every day,” a group of more than 20 cannabis companies said in a letter to the state health department in January. “Despite numerous health and safety measures taken by employers at high cost, this work has been done with an inherent risk.”

The updated guidelines of the CDPH also included “Veterinary Service Employees” in phase 1b, step 1.

Michael Williams is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: michael.williams@sfchronicle.com or Twitter @michaeldamianw.