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Cannabis shops aid in resupply of hand sanitizer

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PITTSFIELD — Two Berkshire County marijuana dispensaries are involved in a partnership between two state agencies that has asked cannabis-related businesses to make hand sanitizer that will be donated free-of-charge to state hospitals.

Berkshire Roots in Pittsfield and Theory Wellness in Great Barrington are among the 12 such businesses across the state that are participating in the project, which is a partnership between the Commonwealth Dispensary Association and the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association. The CDA is the largest and most active organization representing the state's cannabis business community.

Those two organizations have been authorized by the Baker Administration, the state Department of Public Health and the Cannabis Control Commission to proceed with the project to help maintain the supply of critical resources that are available throughout the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In compliance with the Baker Administration's emergency order and stay-at-home advisory on Monday, the Cannabis Control Commission has temporarily halted the sale of marijuana to adults for recreational use at state licensed marijuana establishments until April 7. Medical marijuana sales have been allowed to continue.

Berkshire Roots and Theory Wellness are both planning to use the ethanol that they normally use in a process that turns marijuana from plants into a concentrate to make hand sanitizer, representatives of both dispensaries said.

"We have volumes of ethanol and it's hard to come by these days," said Tom Winstanley, the director of marketing for Theory Wellness. "We're taking it and repurposing it for hand sanitizer. We're switching our production over and hope to make 10 gallons of hand sanitizer for local use."

"We jumped at the chance to participate," said Berkshire Roots CEO James Winokur.

At Berkshire Roots, Winokur said the firm's laboratory, facility and kitchen directors are evaluating the new procedures, and that materials needed to make hand sanitizer have been ordered. He expects Berkshire Roots to be up and running by next week.

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Theory Wellness hopes to have its production lines set up to make hand sanitizer "within the next few days," Winstanley said.

"It's a great way to help us fight the outbreak," he said. "Anything we can do. We have a responsibility just like any other business."

According to the CDA and the MHA, the production of hand sanitizer is not overly sophisticated, but the materials that are needed to make it are expensive. Medical supplies like hand sanitizer have become scarce since the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread, and these shortage have been exacerbated further by price gouging.

The Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association helped identify the need for these supplies and spearheaded a convening between CDA and directors of pharmacy from hospitals and health systems across the state to create protocols, standard operating procedures and to assist with production knowledge.

"When John Hillier, who's on the CDA Board, brought the feasibility of producing hand sanitizer to our attention, members jumped at the opportunity to partner with MHA to make this happen," said CDA President David Torrisi in a statement. "I am incredibly proud of members who are allocating time and resources to produce hand sanitizer, at cost, to help clinicians in the fight against COVID-19."

The CDA believes that under full production its members can produce 5,000 gallons of hand sanitizer per week that can be fully donated to hospitals.

"It was clear to me that hospitals are spending valuable resources producing hand sanitizer when they should be preparing for what's coming down the road, said Hillier, who is the executive director of Central Avenue Compassionate Care of Ayer, one of the other cannabis businesses that is participating in the project. "As an industry, we have the capabilities to step in and allow them to spend more time providing care."

In order to facilitate that production, operators have applied the World Health Organization's guidelines to their cannabis machinery and will fill five gallon jugs labeled in accordance with USP 795 so that it can be transported for use in hospitals. The hand sanitizer these dispensaries produce will be transported to Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency for distribution to individual hospitals.

Formed in 2015, the CDA has 36 members that hold operating licenses in more than 60 cities and towns across Massachusetts.


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