A joint for a vaccine? Weed becomes latest giveaway in fight against COVID-19

Long Beach has tried giving away aquarium tickets, cheeseburgers and gaming systems to entice more residents to get vaccinated, but now a community group is taking a new approach by offering free joints for people who may still be holding out on getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Healthy Long Beach campaign, called “Joints for Jabs LBC,” is partnering with the Long Beach Collective Association, which represents dozens of cannabis businesses in the city, for the giveaway.  Eligible adults over 21 who receive a vaccine will be given a token for a free, pre-rolled cannabis cigarette if they get vaccinated.

The two groups had been working together for months on a way to combine forces to help with the city’s vaccination efforts.

The one-day clinic is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on  July 24 at Houghton Park in North Long Beach’s 90805 ZIP code, which is also one of only two in the city that still has less than half its population vaccinated.

Children and those under the age of 21 can still get vaccinated at the clinic but won’t be eligible for the joint giveaway. The shots will be administered by employees from the city’s health department, but the city is not co-sponsoring the event.

“Cannabis is part of our Long Beach culture and to safely share a joint without contributing to the spread of COVID-19, we must all do our part to get vaccinated, “ Long Beach Forward Executive Director James Suazo said in a statement. “With the delta variant becoming the dominant COVID-19 strain in Los Angeles County, we want our unvaccinated neighbors to catch a free marijuana strain instead so we can protect each other.”

The LBCA said in a statement that it supports public health efforts, and supporting vaccination efforts in the community “falls in line with LBCA stance on promoting healthy living and prevention.”

Suazo’s group launched a campaign in January using door-to-door outreach to educate communities on the COVID-19 vaccine and other resources available through the city.

Suazo said Monday that the “Joints for Jabs” event later this month could be replicated if it’s successful.

“Depending on the response and turnout we’d be happy to offer it again,” Suazo said in an interview Monday.

Events offering free cannabis products in exchange for vaccines are not new, but this is the first time one has happened in Long Beach. Other states like Washington, Arizona, New York and even Washington, D.C. have all seen similar events.

About 4,000 joints were doled out in exchange for vaccines at an event held by cannabis activists on April 20 in New York, according to a report by Forbes.

Vaccination rates have slowed in the past few months, with 66.8% of eligible residents over 12 in the city being vaccinated.

Long Beach’s case rates and testing positivity rates have also begun to creep up since the June 15 reopening of the state’s economy when many rules, including wide-ranging public mask mandates, were lifted.

Long Beach’s case rate (4.3 new cases per 100,000 residents) and positivity rate (2.6%) as of July 8, would rank it in the state’s orange tier under the reopening guidelines that also went away after June 15.

Los Angeles County health officials have also reported over 1,000 new cases in the county for the past three days.

Houghton Park is located at 6301 Myrtle Ave. 

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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