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Once considered illegal, now 'essential' cannabis businesses adjusting amid 4/20 celebrations

On April 20, some Californians like to celebrates "Weed Day," but the COVID-19 pandemic means many will observe from home.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — April 20 is a day many celebrate cannabis, but many of those festivities have been moved online this year, as California's pot industry continues to face monumental changes brought forth by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Once illegal, cannabis businesses are now considered "essential." Dispensaries that offer medical and recreational marijuana are allowed to stay open, serve customers, and make home deliveries under the stay-at-home order. This represents a huge shift in the accessibility of cannabis.

As such, this year's 4/20 celebration is unlike any other, and it's not just because some have deemed this whole month to be 4/20. (Since April 2020 is written as "4/20," many in the cannabis community have decided to call the entire month a 4/20 celebration.)

RELATED: Cannabis and cocktails amid coronavirus? State says carry on

The tradition of 4/20 is said to have roots here in California, when five high school students in 1971 began the tradition of consuming cannabis at 4:20 p.m. Little did they know that April 20 would later be designated "Weed Day" across the country.

Cannabis was not legal during that time. 

Changes to the industry in California that have arisen in just the last few weeks mean that while you can celebrate the decidedly non-federal holiday, you must do so in your own home. 

Many 4/20 events were canceled in light of the coronavirus. 

In the Sacramento region, the Cannabis Cup — a music festival and marijuana competition — was scheduled for this past weekend at the Cal Expo, which has since turned into a drive-through testing site.

In the Bay Area, San Francisco Mayor London Breed warned people, "Do not come to San Francisco on 4/20 to Robin Williams Meadows," a popular spot for cannabis consumption.

In some respects, the cannabis industry appeared to be booming thanks to the pandemic. ABC10 reported previously that some businesses — especially delivery services — saw a surge in cannabis sales in mid-March. 

However, that peak has appeared to plateau, according to some cannabis business owners. 

4/20 represents a cannabis Black Friday to many dispensaries, and with stay-at-home orders causing retail businesses to suffer, only time will tell how COVID-19 fully impacts the cannabis industry.

The uncertainty in the market poses the latest challenge for an industry that’s expanded in some form to all but a handful of states.

The risks are spotlighted in California, where businesses contend with hefty taxes, an illicit market that still dwarfs the legal one and a tourism-reliant economy that’s crippled by virus restrictions.

Because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, most banks don’t want to do business with pot companies and they aren’t included in the coronavirus rescue package that will help other businesses.

RELATED: Legal marijuana industry tested as coronavirus slams economy

The coronavirus pandemic has also made light of necessary cannabis reform in California. 

In a report put together by the ACLU, data showed that while overall marijuana-related arrests have decreased at the national level since 2010, marijuana arrests still make up 43% of all drug arrests. Nine out of ten arrests are for possession.

Despite legalization in California, arrest rates have continued to follow a downward trend that began in 2010 when cannabis was decriminalized. The problem is that arrests are still ongoing, with Black people 1.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people.

This is tough in the era of COVID-19. 

Prisons are especially at risk for potential outbreaks, which is why many institutions are releasing offenders who have less than 60 days left on their sentence.

Perhaps with the designation of the industry as "essential," California will see more in the way of cannabis reform in the coming months. 

If you or someone you know is celebrating 4/20 this year, there are many ways to stay safe in the era of COVID-19. 

If you can get your order through delivery or curbside pickup, this is the best method for getting cannabis during the coronavirus pandemic. As of March 25, curbside pickup is mandatory in Colorado; delivery is mandatory in Nevada. 

There will definitely be longer wait times today, so stay safe if you are going in-person to a dispensary. As always, practice social distancing. Placing your order online can help minimize this time spent in public.

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WATCH MORE: Governor Newsom gives an update on the coronavirus response in California | April 20, 2020

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