Coronavirus: Cannabis stores considered an essential service

As provinces go into lockdown mode to curb the spread of COVID-19, cannabis stores are remaining open in several jurisdictions

Torontonians line up outside Nova Cannabis. | Credit: Nick Lachance

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As of Tuesday, the mandatory closures of all nonessential businesses went into place in Ontario and Quebec, the country’s largest provinces.

The moves called into question just what – other than grocery stories, gas stations, and pharmacies – are considered essential. From province to province, it varies – ever so slightly.

When it comes to cannabis, the rule seems to be that wherever liquor retailers are considered essential, so are cannabis retailers.

In Ontario and New Brunswick, cannabis stores will remain open. In Quebec, SQDC – the province’s cannabis retailer – will also remain open, though with limited customers. Meanwhile in British Columbia, cannabis stores remain open though the province has not yet been deemed them essential services. 

Ontario’s list reads: “For the purposes of this order, businesses include any for-profit, non-profit or other entity providing the goods and services described herein. This does not preclude the provision of work and services by entities not on this list either online, by telephone or by mail/delivery. Note that teleworking and online commerce are permitted at all times for all businesses.”

It’s a positive sign for the cannabis industry, which has seen sales soar in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The Ontario Cannabis Store has experienced a significant uptick in sales and express deliveries in the last week. It received nearly 3,000 orders on a recent Saturday, which is 80 percent more than the company’s average weekend sales.

However, while some cannabis retailers and producers have closed, many others, including Toronto’s FSD Pharma and New Brunswick’s Organigram, are scaling back staff and/or production, reducing hours, or offering online delivery.

In hopes of a more substantial band-aid, just days ago, over 70 cannabis organizations wrote a letter to Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains, requesting a portion of Ottawa’s economic aid package being offered to businesses impacted by the pandemic.  

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