Ontario weed stores open to customers as future of delivery uncertain 

Kathryn Tindale | Mugglehead Media

Ontario customers are being welcomed back inside cannabis stores Friday while uncertainty lingers as to how long some temporary industry measures will last.

Non-essential retail stores can operate at 15-per-cent capacity in the first step of Ontario’s reopening plan.

Ontario weed retailers — like many other industries — have been adapting to lockdown measures as the province tackles the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the past year, the province has flip-flopped on how cannabis stores can get their products to customers under changing restrictions. Temporary lockdown measures granted curbside pick-up and delivery, only to be taken away then given back again as viral waves surged.

Only provincial wholesaler and retailer the Ontario Cannabis Store has been allowed to deliver weed both before and after lockdown measures have gone into place.

Read more: Ontario allows weed delivery and pickup to combat illicit market

Read more: Ontario to scrap delivery and curbside pickup amidst ongoing pandemic

While customers can to come back into stores, retailers have had to make many adjustments to keep up and the lack of a long-term plan from the province doesn’t help.

Jennawae McLean, co-founder and CEO of Calyx +Trichomes in Kingston, Ont., tells Mugglehead by phone the store was set to open up sooner before that was delayed by the province until Friday.

“It would be nice to have some sort of foresight because it’s people’s lives. If you think a schedule is not a big deal, it’s important for people to know if they need to be at work next week,” McLean says.

Mugglehead asked Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General how long this round of allowances for pick-up and delivery would last. The ministry said it’s working on a response, but didn’t get back by press time.

She brought in a free delivery service under the temporary measures, but it comes at a price. Unsure if the delivery service will be allowed to stay, she can’t implement a fee without feeling like she’s springing it on her customers.

“We have a temporary responsibility, which is a labor of love. It’s definitely a charity that we’re doing. Deliveries don’t really make us money — it just helps us serve the community better,” she says, explaining there are the added costs of bringing on drivers and using a delivery app service.

The province reevaluating its reopening plan every few weeks isn’t good enough, she argues. Instead, she’d rather know what the summer will look like for the industry. “We’ll always adapt. We’ll always be fine, but it’s difficult with the level of uncertainty.”

Up in cottage country, Heather Huff-Bogart, owner and CEO of Green Bouquet Cannabis Inc. in Muskoka, Ont., describes by phone the excitement from some customers being able to peruse products in-person.

“People who’ve been coming today, it’s like their first time at a cannabis store,” she says. “It’s been really positive.

“People can actually come in and have a nice one-to-one chat now with the budtenders. I’m finding they’re a lot more comfortable than standing outside, discussing and then calling,” she adds.

Her store, which is one of the smallest in the province, opened up near the end of the lockdown period. But she didn’t implement a delivery service under the impression the temporary measure would soon be over.

“So I held off on delivery, which I’m kind of kicking myself for now,” she says. “If I knew it was permanent, I’d have delivery set up tomorrow.”

She adds that quite a few people have enjoyed the curbside pick-up option, and she hopes that will stick around to offer more flexibility to customers.