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New Brunswick residents didn’t just head home at the start of the province’s state of emergency last month. They also swung by provincial liquor and cannabis outlets to stock up.

Fourth-quarter financial results released jointly for NB Liquor and Cannabis NB on Tuesday show revenue bumps that each agency said was caused by a COVID-19-generated buying spree by customers — especially for beer, wine and spirits.

“It is estimated that the impact of COVID-19 on sales during the last two weeks of the quarter was an increase of approximately 12 percent,” reported NB Liquor in a release explaining its results.  

That equates to an extra $1.5 million in sales over two weeks at the end of March. Cannabis NB said it recorded a more modest $100,000 in extra sales from residents stocking up for the state of emergency.

Cannabis NB reported its strongest sales in January, February and March this year, since it first opened to long lineups back in October 2018. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Both agencies closed out their fourth quarters and fiscal years on March 29.

New Brunswick recorded Atlantic Canada’s first case of COVID-19 on March 11 and Premier Blaine Higgs declared a state of emergency on March 19, requiring residents to stay at home except for essential work and errands.

For thousands of residents, those essential errands included attending to depleted liquor cabinets and recreational drug needs.

“The last two weeks of the quarter marked the beginning of emergency measures to respond to COVID-19,” noted Cannabis NB in its financial report.

“It is estimated that the impact of COVID-19 on sales was during the last two weeks of the quarter.”

It’s not clear what motivated the spree, but there were some concerns in the early days of the pandemic about the ongoing availability of alcohol and cannabis products.

Across the border, the Prince Edward Island government announced on March 18 it would be closing government-owned liquor and cannabis stores on the island. P.E.I. eventually softened that stance, but the move was widely reported in New Brunswick at the time.

P.E.I. caused long lineups at its government-run liquor stores March 18 when it announced they would be closing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The policy was eventually softened, but the event may have contributed to a late-March buying spree in New Brunswick. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health said closing liquor stores was not seriously pursued because it could have created its own health crisis.

“We weighed the pros and cons,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell at a daily briefing April 16.

 “Alcohol is probably one of the few drugs that the withdrawal symptoms can be fatal so there are reasons we took into account around that.”

Premier Blaine Higgs announced a state of emergency in New Brunswick on March 19 to combat the COVID-19 virus. The move was meant to keep people at home, but it sent many to provincial liquor and cannabis stores. (Government of New Brunswick/Submitted)

Hidden in the COVID-19-generated sales was news Cannabis NB revenues grew significantly on their own apart from the pandemic rush and the agency turned its first profit in six quarters.  

It recorded record sales of $14 million in the fourth quarter over 13 weeks, a 43.9 per cent jump over last year’s fourth quarter even though it covered 14 weeks. That helped Cannabis NB post $500,000 in net income for the quarter and lower losses for the full year to $4.3 million.  

Cannabis sales for the fiscal year were an estimated $44.9 million, a significant improvement over its first year.

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