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How to disinfect cannabis packaging during the coronavirus pandemic

Published on April 9, 2020 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Formula 409 or a homemade bleach solution will do the trick. Just don't mix-n-match your cleaning fluids. (AdobeStock)

Under today’s COVID-19 pandemic rules, marijuana dispensaries are offering delivery and curbside pickup to keep their customers and staff safe. But does that mean it’s safe to handle the packaging itself? Should cannabis consumers disinfect the plastic packaging and bud jars?

Yes, you probably should wipe down that bud jar you just purchased.

Here’s what we know.

Staff members at cannabis stores and dispensaries are quarantining at home if they’re sick. But some people may carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus while remaining asymptomatic. That means they feel fine but may be shedding the virus into the surrounding environment via their breath and hands.

Most dispensary staff members wear disposable gloves. But not all are wearing masks at this time. So it remains possible for a staff member to transfer droplets of the virus onto their own gloved hands, and then onto a tin of THC mints or a doob tube that they’re putting in your delivery bag.

The question then becomes: How long can the virus live on the surface of that packaging?

Use Leafly Pickup to safely order your cannabis online

The virus lives for 1-2 days

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study last month that tested the SARS-CoV-2 virus on a number of different surfaces. On cardboard and metal, the virus lingered for up to 24 hours. On plastic, researchers detected its presence for one to two days.

The upshot: It is unlikely but possible to contact COVID-19 particles on cannabis packaging—or any packaging.

Is my dispensary open and can they deliver cannabis? State by state guide to COVID-19 restrictions

To ease your anxiety and eliminate any chance of transfer, either wipe the packaging with a strong disinfectant or let the package sit and cool off for a day or two in your car or closet. (The virus is not literally a bug—it can’t leap off one surface onto another like a flea.)

As a consumer who now orders online and picks up curbside, my method is to clean each item with a disinfectant wipe as soon as I pull out of the pickup line. You can do the same with delivered items—just wipe them down as soon as you close the door.

Please note: We’re talking about disinfecting the outer packaging only. There is no need to disinfect the actual cannabis product, and nobody wants to smoke a tasty bud that’s been doused in Formula 409.

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Which cleaning products are strong enough?

The EPA maintains a list of 357 disinfectants approved for use against COVID-19. Yes, 357. Don’t drive yourself mental scrolling through their not-very-helpful website.

National brands

Use a common household spray product like:

  • Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner
  • Lysol Clean & Fresh Multi-Surface Cleaner
  • Clorox 4-in-1 Disinfecting Spray
  • Clorox Scentiva Multi-Surface Cleaner
  • Formula 409 Multi-Surface Cleaner
  • Seventh Generation Disinfecting Spray

Or a packaged wipe product, such as:

  • Wet Ones Antibacterial Face and Hand Wipes
  • Lysol Disinfecting Wipes
  • Clorox Disinfecting Wipes

Home remedies

Bleach solution: Local stores sold out of all the Lysol and Clorox products? Not to worry. You can prepare your own disinfecting solution for about ten cents by mixing four teaspoons of bleach with one quart of water in an old spray bottle. Here are the tried-and-true recipes:

  • 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water
  • 1/3 cup bleach per gallon of water

Some authorities are advising the use of a slightly stronger solution, up to 1/3 cup bleach per quart of water.

Use your own judgment—just don’t use straight undiluted bleach. Even the Clorox company, which is in the business of selling bleach, cautions that “it should never be applied full strength to anything!”

Isopropyl alcohol: Rubbing alcohol is also a potent COVID killer, but unlike bleach it must be highly concentrated. A solution of 70% isopropyl alcohol (or higher) will kill the coronavirus. Note that vodka is not rubbing alcohol. Vodka, even Tito’s, is just not strong enough, so don’t use it as a disinfectant.

Hydrogen peroxide: Like rubbing alcohol, this can be used as is and should not be diluted.

What not to use

Vinegar: It’s just not strong enough to kill the coronavirus, sorry.

Vodka or other drinking alcohols: No, no, and no. Just don’t. Clorox bleach is four bucks a gallon and it works. Tito’s Vodka is $70 a gallon and it doesn’t work.

Don’t mix fluids, seriously

Never mix different kinds of disinfectants or cleaning solutions, like bleach, vinegar, or ammonia. That stuff will go Chemistry 101 on you and give off nasty and potentially toxic gases.

Mixing bleach with ammonia will produce toxic gases called chloramines. That’s some nasty business that causes coughing, nausea, chest pain, pneumonia, and fluid in the lungs.

Bleach also reacts with other products like hydrogen peroxide, oven cleaners, and pool chemicals. Our hospitals have their hands full with COVID-19 patients. Don’t add to their caseload. Now is not the time to play home chemist.

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Bruce Barcott
Bruce Barcott
Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.
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