In the time of pandemic, what becomes an essential service and what does not? Who decides what is necessary? The government has decided that cannabis dispensaries are not essential. But they may be changing track. April sources say that Ontario may be changing course on allowing cannabis stores to remain open during the Ontario’s emergency action in reply to curbing the spread of COVID-19.

While cannabis stores did not make the “cut” on the updated list of essential services on April 3, 2020, cannabis producers were allowed to remain in operation as they do provide a medical product, similar to pharmaceuticals.

Prior to the April 3, 2020 announcement, a number of the 52 retailers had already reduced their working hours to avoid crowding and better manage customer traffic flow. Steps were taken by the Ontario Cannabis Store to increase capacity in order to manage a larger volume of online orders  and adding shipping capabilities to offer expedited direct-to-door delivery services. Nevertheless, cannabis sales across Canada fell 2.7% due to COVID-19 in February, but Ontario has seen an epic tripling of online orders since the beginning of the isolation/stay home mandate, with almost 1 in 3 orders from new customers.

In light of this, the Ontario Cannabis store has staffed up, and lowered prices on a number  of cannabis products and launched free shipping to make legal options more accessible.

In light of COVID-19, the Ontario Cannabis Store currently has a notice on their website which lists a number of ways to avoid the spread of COVID-19, including; do not share joints, vapes, pipes or bongs; wash your hands often; if you’re sick – skip the smoke; keep your distance; and use government resources to stay up to date.  Smoking anything during a pandemic that effects lung functioning should be discussed with a medical professional.

In addition, a new shipping protocol has been put in place which includes expedited delivery and the waiving of delivery charges to make their services as accessible as possible. One can either get direct-to-door delivery or one may pick-up at the post office. Both options free of charge. The direct-to-door courier service now covers 63% of Ontario consumers. The government has waived signing requirements to accept delivery of cannabis products, but still requires ID to ensure that only those legally entitled to use cannabis can take advantage of the new delivery options.

The Ford government announced on April 7, 2020 that curbside pick-up and delivery options would be allowed for cannabis products in an effort to keep the black market at bay. Given the pandemic, laws around pick-up and delivery do not seem to be much different from retailers of non-cannabis products that allow for pick-up options. Cannabis retailers now allow for online ordering and in person pick-up requiring an ID that matches the name on the order. Customers are not permitted in store.

With these changes,  also has come the increase in edibles and their variety. Edibles were legalized in October of 2019 and  hit market from the Ontario Cannabis Store in January 2020. The Ontario Cannabis Store reports that they have continued to see an increase in sales, running out of products in just mere hours. Any cannabis retail license holders are required to give Health Canada a two-month notice before adding edibles to their stock. The amount of THC in edibles is capped at 10 mg. While edibles have been available from retailers from different provinces for some time, it was only recently that the Ontario Cannabis Store began their sale. In light of COVID-19, however, there seems to be a move away from the Ontario Cannabis Store’s monopoly on online cannabis sales with consumers seeking products from other sources. British Columbia products have been available for order for some time, with normal in-mail delivery, straight out of your regular mail box. No attendance or in-person pick up or signing required at a Canada Post.

At this point in time, neither Ubereats or Foodora offer delivery of edible cannabis products. This perhaps may be due to the necessity of the in-person contact that ID checks would require. We may soon see changes in cannabis product delivery similar to alcohol delivery, allowing various retailers aside from the Ontario Cannabis Store to deliver.

While COVID-19 has changed the delivery landscape it has also changed the landscape of consumers of cannabis products. Although we cannot predict the changes COVID-19 will have on Cannabis related claims, the Cannabis Practice Group continues to work with the Coverage Practice Group at ZTGH to be ready to answer your questions.

If you have a question about this decision or a similar file, please contact Eric Grossman at 416-777-5222