Following a sombre press conference on Friday during which a frightened-looking premier Doug Ford predicted the death toll from COVID-19 in Ontario alone may range from 3,000 to 15,000, the province tightened the list of workplaces considered "essential," and stripped private REC retail of its "essential" designation.
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- Ontario's 52 REC stores were required to close by 11:59 on Saturday night and remain closed for 14 days (with possibility of extension). The Ontario government changed course on Tuesday afternoon, not allowing in-person shopping, but permitting REC stores to reopen to offer click-and-collect order pick-up, and even allowing stores 14 days to offer same-day home delivery by qualified employees. (If you live and Ontario and want to buy cannabis, try calling your local REC store, checking out their website and social media posts to find out what options they've cobbled together.)
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- Licensed producers may continue production operations.
Along with REC stores, Ontario also removed "essential" designation from hardware stores and pet stores, saying those businesses would have to sell by delivery only.
Though the AGLC licensed 12 stores under the new open-market system in March, the Ontario government initially decided the only legal REC in the province would be purchased through the Ontario Cannabis Store website, which would have to be delivered by Canada Post.
- Canada Post had announced on March 17 it would no longer deliver cannabis to residents' homes (since this requires age verification). This forced OCS customers to line up for packages at post offices and postal counters (such as those in many Shoppers Drug Marts across Canada).
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- The OCS has seen increased sales as the pandemic has intensified, and recently paused a same-day delivery pilot project in the greater Toronto area that demand had overwhelmed.
- Former federal health minister Jane Philpott said the idea of closing REC retail "doesn't seem smart," since consumers will likely buy illicit cannabis without social distancing.
Critics were annoyed state-owned Ontario Cannabis Store, from whom all REC stores must buy their inventory, is in competition with the REC stores the government ordered closed, and is offering deals to draw customers from the private REC sector.
- Lawyer Trina Fraser worried the OCS will definitely survive the COVID crisis, but without delivery or click-and-collect, individual retailers might not.
On Saturday, shoppers lined up in huge numbers ahead of the midnight deadline. As occurred when PEI shut down its liquor and REC stores, shoppers in line didn't all respect social distancing.
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- My mother, in Ottawa, reported the line for the Superette ran three blocks and turned a corner, spanning two intersections.
Ontario joined Newfoundland and Nunavut in shifting REC retail to online portals only. REC retail remains on the list of essential services in Quebec, Alberta, and BC, as well as in several US states.
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