Cannabis retailers in Ottawa are breathing a sigh of relief after the provincial government reversed a decision that would have forced private pot shops to completely shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On April 3, Premier Doug Ford expanded the province’s list of non-essential business to include cannabis stores.
Four days later, the province issued an emergency order allowing those stores to both deliver and offer curbside pickup from Monday to Sunday, between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m.
The order is in place for 14 days.
“This change was made to allow cannabis retailers to have the same opportunities as other non-essential businesses that are permitted to operate remotely if they can provide goods for pickup and delivery.” said Jenessa Crognali, spokesperson for the Attorney General of Ontario.
Companies lobbied for change
The Hobo Cannabis company was one of a number of retailers that collectively lobbied the government to make the change.
“Our customers — whether they have any mental or physical dependencies on cannabis or not — really need and want cannabis products to kind of get them through this ordeal right now,” said Harrison Stoker, vice-president of the Donnelly Group, which owns Hobo.
Stoker said the cannabis business was keeping the Donnelly Group going during the pandemic, since its hospitality side of its operations had completely closed.
Hobo reopened stores for pickup Wednesday and began deliveries Friday, said Stoker, and have been busy since.
“Even just from a purely recreational perspective, you know, people are looking for things to do,” he said. “And we’re helping them do [that].”
Illegal market a concern
At Ottawa’s Superette store, staff are still working on their delivery model, but curbside pickup is up and running.
Mimi Lam, the store’s CEO, said she’s relieved she’ll be able to keep Superette afloat and her staff employed.
Before the province reversed its position, the only way customers had access to pot was online through the provincially-run Ontario Cannabis Store — and Lam said quickly sent people to seek out the black market.
“That was severely limiting access to safe and regulated products. And we saw really quickly… the proliferation of illicit operators, they were out in full force,” Lam said.
In its statement, the Ford government said they also changed the policy in order to curb the illegal trade during the pandemic.
Both Stoker and Lam said if deliveries do well, they may have a case for lobbying the government to let them continue once the pandemic is over.
Both companies have put measures in place so that customers follow physical distancing rules.