Anchorage dispensaries remain open amid hunker-down order

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - When Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz issued a hunker down order in response to the coronavirus pandemic, many businesses were ordered to stop operation. Only 'critical' or essential businesses were allowed to operate. Of those, marijuana dispensaries made the list.

A statement from the mayor's office explains why the municipality decided to allow dispensaries to stay open.

It reads that Marijuana establishments remain open under the order because some residents use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Furthermore, it states the recreational sales are still permitted due to the fact that the marijuana retail license does not distinguish between recreational or medicinal use.

A couple days leading up to the announcement, Leah Levinton, co-owner of Enlighten Alaska said they saw a major spike in sales where customers were talking about how they were stocking up on various products. The day after the order went into effect, she said there was a distinct lull.

For everyone walking through the door, she said COVID-19 is the number one topic of conversation.

"It evolved on a day to day basis in terms of what our customers are saying," she said, "it started out with people saying, 'hey, I don't have to work. I don't know how long. I'm just going to smoke weed and have some fun at home."

She said people developed a more serious tone as days went on, more announcements were made, and the number of positive cases rose.

"Now we do have customers coming in saying, 'I have health concerns. I'm out of a job. I'm worried about paying rent. I don't know about paying bills,'" Levinton said.

Levinton suspects many of her customers are coming to her store to find something to help them relax during the times we're in. She said it's good for them as a business because she and her 20 employees are still working for their livelihood, but feels it's better for the members of the community who are stressed out.

"The fact that we are able to be open and offer something for our community that can give them some relief, relax, chill out," she said, "I think that's a good thing."

Being open while the pandemic worsens is not something they're taking lightly.

At Enlighten, Levinton explained their precautions. All employees are wearing gloves throughout their shift; all the surfaces are wiped down once an hour; only two people are allowed in the main store area with only one customer per budtender while others wait in the lobby; and there are cones spread out six feet apart to remind folks to keep their social distance.

Levinton said they're taking additional measures to keep customers from arriving in large numbers and not doing any incentivizing sales at this time.

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