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Ontario cannabis stores have been ordered to shut during Covid-19 – what should consumers do?

Ontario – Canada’s cannabis hub

With close to 2 million cannabis users and CAD 1.7 billion in 2019 sales, Ontario is the undisputed engine of Canada’s cannabis sector. With 52 retail outlets scattered across the province and several cannabis retail operator licenses under review by authorities, Ontario is expected to remain the country’s cannabis consumption and retail hub over the foreseeable future.

Prior to Covid-19, 2020 was supposed to be a high growth and an exciting year for cannabis with a high variety of cannabis-infused products expected to hit store shelves in Ontario and across Canada. However, these expectations have hit an uncertain snag with the spread of the virus.  

Covid-19 and its impact on Ontario cannabis retail

Covid-19 has begun its trajectory of steep increase in Canada. Latest estimates of infections are close to 16,000 along with 293 deaths, which are fast increasing. Ontario is the most impacted, accounting for 25% of the cases and 45% of deaths.

To dampen the spread of Covid-19 cases in the province, on March 24th 2020, the Ontario government issued a list of 15 business categories, deemed essential, which were allowed to remain open during the crisis. Cannabis retail stores were included as essential places of business with permission to continue retail operations.

However, after further advice from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, on April 3, 2020, the authorities updated the list of essential businesses, which effectively struck cannabis retail stores off the list of essential entities. In line with this consideration, it was further decreed that the retail stores were to close from April 5th 2020 for a period of 14 days. With the spread of Covid-19 worsening, there is a high probability of a further extension of the mandated closure period. This move by the authorities has dealt a severe blow to cannabis retailers, who have been left with no option but to comply with the prescribed restrictions.

A grocery store sandwich board sands beside customers picking up pre-paid orders at a neighbouring cannabis store in Ottawa on April 4, 2020. Cannabis stores province wide were closed at midnight after they were removed from the list of businesses considered essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Image source: CBC News)

Cannabis e-commerce model to the rescue

During this time of crisis, where retail operations with a bricks-and-mortar presence are being forced to shut down across the globe, only businesses with a strong e-commerce and digital platform are proving to be successful. A sampling of such firms includes online retail giants such as Walmart and Amazon, streaming firms such as Netflix and Youtube, home workout programs such as Peloton as well as teleconferencing apps such as Zoom and Skype

Online ordering and delivery platforms are rescuing Ontario’s 2 million strong, disappointed cannabis consumers. OCS.ca, being declared an essential business, has become the critical online option for securing legal, tested recreational cannabis during the shutdown. The website offers the ‘store locator’ option where purchasers can look at details on stores in close by locations that offer options for online shopping. Consumers can further research into particular outlets and product availability through visiting the store website.

screenshot from ocs.ca

To make its services accessible during the crisis, OCS.ca is waiving all delivery charges.

Online ordering and delivery platforms, such as Boutique Cannabis, can rescue Ontario’s 2 million strong, disappointed cannabis consumers. This online platform offers an exceptional combination of a vast product range, a strong online ordering and delivery network and an offer of free express delivery for orders above CAD 119. The company has witnessed an increase in its customer base and stands ready to meet the growing online orders as new customers switch over to online ordering of cannabis during this challenging time.

Canada Post Service

Moreover, it has announced a change in the delivery mechanism for its shipments through Canada Post. They will not be delivering parcels that require a signature or proof-of-age to the customer’s door. Instead, Canada Post will leave a notice card directing customers to a nearby post office where they can pick up their items by showing proof of identity. However, the second option of Three-Day delivery operated by Domain Express continues to operate as Direct-to-Door service. However, Three-Day delivery has limited availability currently for select postal codes in the Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton, Waterloo Region and Guelph.

Prior to the virus, consumer preferences were already shifting to shopping online. However, experts predict that the longer the virus-related shutdown continues, the overwhelming switch to online purchasing might happen much sooner which will inevitably apply to the cannabis sector as well.

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