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Moralism and COVID Vaccinations


There’s nothing like a limited supply of a life-saving vaccination to bring out people’s latent ideas of who are deserving and who are not deserving. The most egregious and grotesque version of this is people freaking out that prisoners would get the vaccine before they do, as if being put in prison makes you a non-person. Says an awful lot about why our criminal injustice system is able to get away with so much violence and murder. Less immoral but still aggravating was this Los Angeles Times article about marijuana workers getting the vaccine.

Last weekend, Jonatan Cvetko drove to a fire station in South L.A. and got vaccinated.

He’s not a senior citizen who is at particularly high risk of dying from COVID-19. Nor does he work at a hospital, spending his days and nights tending to critically ill patients on ventilators.

He does, however, own a cannabis shop. And as of last week, that alone makes Cvetko eligible to get his first dose right now — ahead of most teachers and cops in Los Angeles County, not to mention bus drivers and grocery store clerks. All he had to do was make an appointment online and bring along his work badge and paystub to show those on staff at the fire station just in case.

If that sounds crazy, I hear you.

In fact, this does not sound crazy, but OK.

I, too, had trouble understanding why the California Department of Public Health would vault tens of thousands of cannabis workers to the front of the eligibility line when the state’s most vulnerable residents can’t even get vaccinated because of supply shortages.

Just this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged that there aren’t enough doses to ensure every teacher is protected before schools reopen. And on Wednesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that L.A. would temporarily close five drive-through vaccination centers, including Dodger Stadium.

But as it turns out, there actually is a logical reason for prioritizing some cannabis workers for COVID-19 vaccines. You just may not like it.

Jerred Kiloh, president of the L.A.-based United Cannabis Business Assn. and owner of the Higher Path dispensary in Sherman Oaks, summed it up this way: Cannabis is medicine, so cannabis workers are healthcare workers.

“After 26 years of calling it medical marijuana, how can you now disenfranchise what we’ve called medical and then tell us we’re not health workers or that we’re not providing medicine for people?” he said, his voice rising in indignation. “It’s slightly disingenuous to put a label on something and then take it away whenever it’s convenient for you as a government.”

California really backed itself into a corner on this one — particularly Newsom, given that he was the main proponent of legalizing the sale of cannabis for adult use with Proposition 64 and came to office with strong backing from the industry.

I don’t see the problem here at all. We can have a debate I guess whether we should treat cannabis workers more like doctors or more like liquor store workers. I am not interested in that debate. What I am interested in is people who have significant interactions with the public getting the vaccine. I am interested in getting as many shots in arms as possible with as few restrictions as possible while still maintaining some form of equity in vaccination access. I am extremely not interested in using the pandemic to fight already dying culture war battles.

I thought this was a pretty revolting article. Stop with trying to slice and dice people up into deserving and undeserving categories. You know who can catch COVID, die of COVID, and give you COVID? Prisoners, undocumented immigrants, prostitutes, cannabis workers, and every other person. Focusing on moralism and deserving or undeserving is a great way to create systems of oppression that will continue long after the pandemic ends. It’s also a great way to slow down vaccine distribution and increasing the chances of you getting the virus.

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