(This story has been updated with a statement from the Ministry of the Attorney General.)
Hundreds of privately owned cannabis retailers across Ontario are preparing to open their doors to in-store customers Friday as the province enters the first phase of its reopening plan with COVID-19 vaccinations ramping up.
Nonessential retail, including adult-use marijuana stores, in Canada’s largest consumer market will be permitted to open with 15% customer capacity, per the province’s rules.
Licensed stores will be allowed to continue providing products via curbside pickup and delivery, two temporary provisions granted by the province.
“Permitting delivery under the Roadmap to Reopen is a temporary measure to help stop the spread of COVID-19 while continuing to provide consumers with access to legal recreational cannabis and help support cannabis retailers given store capacity limits,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General told MJBizDaily in a statement.
“The Ontario government remains focused on providing consumers and private cannabis retailers with a competitive open market for retail storefronts while protecting the well-being of our youth, keeping communities safe, and combatting the illegal market.”
The website for the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), the regulator that licenses those retailers, listed more than 760 retail store authorizations as of last week.
Toronto, which is home to more cannabis stores than any other city in Ontario, has experienced a steady increase in sales since the start of 2020 despite forcing nonessential retailers to close their doors for part of the year.
Roughly 17.4 million Canadian dollars ($14.4 million) worth of adult-use cannabis products were sold in Toronto at the start of 2020, rising to almost CA$40 million in March 2021.
Experts attribute the growth to an increasing number of stores, falling prices and growing product selection. Toronto had seven legal cannabis stores in January 2020 and almost 90 by December.
Jennawae McLean’s store in Kingston, Calyx & Trichomes, last opened to in-store customers in early April.
She said 15% capacity is “reasonable.”
“Because we’re so quick and we try to get people in and out as fast as possible, five (customers) is still helpful,” she said.
McLean would like the province to provide clarity about how long stores will be allowed to offer delivery and curbside pickup as part of the phased reopening of the economy.
“We’ll follow whatever they say and make it work,” she said. “Nobody’s watching the rules as closely as business owners are.”
Cannabis stores across Ontario have had to contend with lockdowns that left them unable to serve walk-up customers.
Omar Khan, senior vice president at Calgary-based cannabis retailer High Tide, said reopening to in-store patrons will allow the regulated industry to better compete with the illicit market, which he said experienced an uptick in illegal delivery services during the lockdown.
“What this means is that, even at the limited 15% capacity, people can come up to the store, be allowed inside and execute the purchase, which will be a big help,” he said. “That, combined with the fact that they’re allowing retailers to continue delivery, will be seen by the retail cannabis sector at large as a big step forward. It will definitely help, particularly as we get into the summer months.”
According to the Ontario ministry’s statement, the province “will continue to consider how best to support the sector as the cannabis market in Ontario continues to grow and mature.”
The “Reopening Ontario” regulation is available here.
Matt Lamers is Marijuana Business Daily’s international editor, based near Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected].