State officials have invited licensed marijuana retail outlets to take an active role in getting more people vaccinated from COVID-19.

As of June 7, the Joints for Jabs program legally permitted them to offer a pre-rolled freebie to anyone over age 21 who received such a shot from a licensed clinic hosted onsite. But after more than a week, reports indicate participating shops are a minority.

Here in the Walla Walla Valley, as of June 14, management of Walla Walla Cannabis Co., on West Main Street, and A Greener Today Marijuana, on West Poplar, say they have discussed it but declined.

Kelilah Benavides, who manages 365 Recreational Cannabis in Dayton on Highway 12, said she would like to host a vaccination clinic and offer the incentive, but little is easy for an industry that remains illegal under federal law. Washington was one of the first states to legalize the adult use of marijuana — Colorado the other — in 2014.

“I reached out to our local health department, and they haven’t reached back out,” she said. “I don’t know if that was just a fluke or if they’re not interested, but that’s been our issue. Who’s comfortable sitting in a cannabis shop for hours?”

The program is scheduled to end July 12, which by now has pretty much limited customers to one freebie under the Pfizer two-shot vaccination schedule.

For store managers like Benavides, who want to be active in vaccinating more and more people, the obstacles facing their industry seems to be a little too much. A pair of retailers in Spokane are using a private vaccine provider to host clinics, according to a June 16 story in the Spokesman-Review, because the Spokane Regional Health District is concerned over its federal funding.

The same block has hit retailers across the state, according to the June 9 story by The Associated Press. They have also told the state Liquor and Cannabis Board that many of them don’t have space for one. Cassidy Hubsky, general manager of A Greener Today Marijuana here in Walla Walla, listed limited parking as one of her reasons.

“People are already getting the shot for free anywhere else,” Hubsky said. “It would just be too much of a hassle for us.”

Meanwhile, breweries, wineries and bars have been allowed to offer a free drink to customers who merely showed proof of vaccination — with no onsite clinic required — the AP reported.

“We’re hearing from retailers that they want to be a part of this,” Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for the industry group Washington CannaBusiness Association, told the AP. “Why can’t we do this like the wineries and breweries did it?”

Marijuana retail brought Washington close to $474 million in taxes the last fiscal year, according to the AP, but few things are simple for the store owners.

The current incentive program, called Joints for Jabs, came from an idea last month by a member of Washington CannaBusiness Association. The AP reports board chairman David Postman and Gov. Jay Inslee’s office thought it was a great idea, and soon launched it.

But it has been slow to catch on. The AP said a retailer in Arizona had offered free vaccines along with complimentary joints or edibles early this month, but no other state appears to have a similar program.

“We are out ahead on this,” Postman said.

As for the requirement that the pot shops hold onsite vaccination clinics, The AP reports that Postman said it was partly motivated by the fact that people aren’t allowed to consume cannabis at licensed retailers — unlike alcohol at a brewery or winery — suggesting that people who showed their vaccine cards at multiple pot shops could wind up with a lot of free joints that might be given to youngsters.

Despite the challenges, the state is said to be disappointed in the lack of participation. Postman has noted that the board gave marijuana stores an advantage it didn’t give to alcohol purveyors: a tax break on the product they give away.

“I guess I just beg for a little understanding,” Postman said. “If it’s not the right thing, then that’ll be too bad, because I think we all need to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

Hector del Castillo can be reached at hectordelcastillo@wwub.com or 509-526-8317.

Hector writes stories about local sports, helps produce the daily section and updates the web site. A lifelong sports nut having grown up in Maryland, he joined the U-B with more than 15 years experience in journalism.

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