Major Canadian pot retailers are praising provinces that have declared cannabis essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they can continue to supply patients and consumers with the weed they need to weather these uncertain times.
Late Monday, the Ontario government issued a public lockdown of all non-essential services. But all cannabis stores and producers were included in the list of essential workplaces that can remain operating during the province’s fight to contain the novel coronavirus.
On Tuesday, the Quebec government also deemed cannabis as essential as bread or toilet paper.
Last week, however, Prince Edward Island closed down all provincially-run liquor and cannabis stores, as both businesses failed to make the cut as an essential service there.
But now that Canada’s two most populated provinces have designated cannabis as a vital part of society, some of the country’s largest weed retailers say that keeping stores open helps patients who depend on the plant as medicine.
“We do feel that cannabis is essential for many Canadians,” Inner Spirit CEO, Darren Bondar, said.
“We believe members of the cannabis community have come to rely on us to ensure their regulated product is available and in-store, especially to address various personal needs. This is a responsibility we take seriously.”
Cannabis retailers mandate social distancing
Inner Spirit Ltd. (CSE: ISH) operates 46 stores under its Spiritleaf brand across four provinces — including stores in Ontario — and Bondar said all have remained open so far.
“We also see this as an opportunity to support our employees by being able to provide employment for as long as we can do so safely,” he said.
Bondar added the company will continue to monitor the situation and follow guidelines of local and federal health authorities. He said Spiritleaf has reduced hours at some stores while also implementing additional cleaning policies as well as mandated social distancing inside each store.
“At the moment we are looking to have only half of the maximum capacity at each store. While in-store, we ask that shoppers keep a 6-foot distance from each other, and not to come in if they are feeling unwell,” Bondar said.
Spiritleaf has also removed smell jars and paper menus, and Bondar said the company is offering consumers a select-and-collect pickup option to minimize in-store time. A home delivery service is available in Saskatchewan, he added.
Keeping stores open wards off illicit market
Fire & Flower Corp. (TSX: FAF) has temporarily closed seven of the 48 cannabis stores it operates in four provinces and the Yukon territory.
But similar to Spiritleaf, the retail giant is enforcing similar social distancing and hygiene policies while encouraging the use of its click-and-collect service.
The Alberta-based company said Ontario’s decision to deem cannabis as essential helps prevent consumers to turn to illicit market for product.
“We are very pleased that the province of Ontario has named cannabis retail stores and licensed producers as essential services and congratulate the province in this decision which will help combat the illegal, unregulated cannabis market,” CEO Trevor Fencott said in a statement.
“This decision will ensure that consumers will have access to safe, legal cannabis.”
Other retailers say cannabis being treated as essential is also important for recreational users in these difficult times.
Recreational users can ‘live their best lives’
High Tide Inc. (CSE:HITI), which runs 28 Canna Cabana stores in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan, told Mugglehead providing access to legal cannabis is a “critical social initiative.”
“Canna Cabana’s purpose has always been to help Canadian cannabis enthusiasts live their best lives, and there’s no question that many of our customers are using cannabis in the pursuit of that goal, especially in this very challenging time,” High Tide chief revenue officer Andy Palalas said.
Palalas added that the company is following Health Canada guidelines but all Canna Cabana stores will remain open across the country.
He said High Tide began deploying click-and-collect services at its stores in January when concerns about COVID-19 began growing overseas. Palalas said the company has also been providing its budtenders with a steady flow of hand sanitizers to safely serve consumers at a good, safe distance.
He said sales have remained “healthy” despite the extensive social distancing measures the company has been enforcing and customers have been patient as wait times in some locations have increased.
Bondar said Spiritleaf stores have reported significant increases in sales as customers buy more items in bulk, “possibly in anticipation of any closures.”
Cannabis deemed ‘essential’ in 22 U.S. jurisdictions
Meanwhile, in the U.S. recent sales are up 40 per cent in Colorado, and 20 per cent in Washington state, according to cannabis analytics firm Headset.
Advocates south of the boarder have also applauded lawmakers for designating cannabis as essential.
“Cannabis plays a crucial role in the treatment of hundreds of thousands of individuals,” Violet Cavendish, communications manager at the Marijuana Policy Project, wrote in a email.
“Many of the same individuals who benefit from medical cannabis are those who have vulnerable immune systems due to their age or a serious medical condition.”
The uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic shouldn’t get worse for medical cannabis patients because they might lose access to an essential treatment options, she added.
Cavendish said the MPP is live-tracking state-level marijuana measures being taken for concerned patients to follow.
Currently, there are 22 U.S. jurisdictions that have deemed at least medical cannabis services essential, according to MPP.
Headset is providing similar information, including updates in Canadian jurisdictions.
Top image by Hector Vasquez