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. 

People lineup for pre-paid orders at the Superette cannabis store in Ottawa on April 4, 2020, just before cannabis shops province-wide were ordered to close down. A few days later, the province announced the stores could offer pickup and delivery. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

“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.

Harrison Stoker is the vice-president of Donnelly Group, which owns Hobo Cannabis in Ottawa. He hopes if deliveries go well during the pandemic, cannabis stores will be able to convince the province to let them continue once it’s over. (Donnelly Group)

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 Lamb, 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 Lamb 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,” Lamb said.

In its statement, the Ford government said they also changed the policy in order to curb the illegal trade during the pandemic.

Mimi Lamb, CEO of Superette says deliver means keeping the black market down. (Superette )

Both Stoker and Lamb 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. 


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