Package Store 'Essential' Designation In Pandemic Is 'Good Public Health' | Connecticut Public Radio
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Package Store 'Essential' Designation In Pandemic Is 'Good Public Health'

Mar 29, 2020

Connecticut, Massachusetts and other states have designated the retail sale of alcoholic beverages as "essential business” during the coronavirus pandemic, meaning packages stores are allowed to stay open. 

It may be a bit of a head scratcher: You can't go to the gym, but you can buy a bottle of vodka. But the decision is considered a public health measure.

Jennifer Whitehill, a public health researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said if package stores were to close abruptly, that could cause other health problems for heavy drinkers, or those going through detoxification.

“[Things like] seizures and hallucinations that would likely end up sending someone to seek care in an emergency department, which is exactly where we don't want anybody to go right now,” Whitehill said. “We need to preserve the capacity of our health system to focus on the COVID-19 crisis.”

Withdrawal can also cause depression, anxiety and irritability, Whitehill said. In some situations that can lead to violence, adding to the current crisis, she said.

Packages stores were designated “essential” this week when Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order requiring all non-essential businesses and organizations to close. That order is in effect until at least April 7. 

Baker justified the decision during a media briefing on Monday.

“Food and beverage operations, which would include package stores, fall in as essential, and that's driven by federal policy as much as anything else, and is in every single other order that we've read in every other jurisdiction that's issued one at the state level,” Baker said.

At least one state, Pennsylvania, has closed liquor stores amid the pandemic. The move raised concerns among some advocates, according to the The Philadelphia Inquirer.

By "federal policy," Baker's office said the governor was referring to federal guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security.

The governor on Monday also said medical marijuana dispensaries were to stay open, but recreational marijuana stores could not. 

“The main reason for that is — because Massachusetts is one of the few states in a big geographic area that has available recreational marijuana and a ton of traffic associated with that is coming from other states, we felt [recreational marijuana stores] in particular would need to be closed and would not be considered essential as part of this order,” Baker said.

At least one cannabis industry lobbying group is actively pushing back against the forced closure. The Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association sent a letter to the governor on Friday asking him to reverse his decision.

Some other states with legal recreational marijuana have allowed the recreational side of the industry to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic.