Medical cannabis dispensaries cannot hire enough staff to meet demand as the offices that process fingerprints for criminal record checks have been deemed non-essential.

Storeowners say they are struggling with staff shortages as many of their budtenders have been struck down by COVID-19. Others have had to take time off in order to care for family members with coronavirus.

Unemployment rates have soared across the US since the coronavirus lockdown began, but dispensary owners are unable to hire new workers to fill the posts. They cannot gain the necessary FBI criminal background checks and drug tests, as the facilities that perform these services have largely been shuttered.

Judith Cassel, an attorney who represents medical marijuana businesses in Pennsylvania, called the situation “so unbelievably frustrating”.

“I have five clients with over 100 openings, and there are likely hundreds more that are waiting,” she told the Philadelphia Inquirer. She added that they are “good paying jobs”, many of which include healthcare benefits, and said it is a travesty that they cannot be filled.

It is a trend that has been mirrored across the country. Chicago-based Cresco Labs was scuppered in its attempt to hire 250 additional staff in Illinois for the same reason.

New Jersey and Maryland have enacted temporary regulations that allow firms to hire staff without the checks during the coronavirus crisis. Cassel has written to the Pennsylvania Department of Health to ask for a 90-day waiver.

It would require candidates to sign an affidavit declaring they do not have a criminal record. They would then have to undergo third party background checks, and they would be fired if they lied.

Cassel wrote that the current process is not fit for purpose in these extraordinary times. It usually takes two to six weeks for a prospective employee to be approved, which is generally manageable, but the current staff shortages are unprecedented as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The US cannabis industry employs around 400,000 people and serves millions of patients, so the lack of available staff will further damage the national economy and it could prove detrimental to many patients’ health if they are unable to secure the marijuana they need to treat their conditions.

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