After initially determining that marijuana dispensaries are essential businesses permitted to remain open during the coronavirus outbreak, regulators in Ontario have reversed course and ordered them to close. The move comes as health officials estimate that the province could see 1,600 deaths from COVID-19 under current policies, a figure that could be reduced to only 200 with “full future intervention.”

The Ontario government had deemed that the province’s 52 cannabis dispensaries were essential businesses that could remain open during mandatory closures ordered on March 24 to help contain the spread of the virus. But cannabis businesses were not included in a list of essential businesses contained in an updated emergency order released on Friday. Businesses no longer deemed essential were ordered to close by Saturday, April 4.

Retailers React To Closures

Daffyd Roderick, the director of communications for the Ontario Cannabis Store, the province’s only licensed cannabis online retailer, said that the company is taking several measures in response to the closure of brick-and-mortar shops.

“These steps include working with our service providers to add extra shifts at the distribution center and operating on a 24/7 basis and to add shipping capability to offer expedited direct-to-door delivery service,” Roderick said. “We’re committed to providing the best possible service despite the unique challenges of this situation.”

Alberta-based High Tide, a vertically integrated producer and retailer of cannabis products, said in a press release that it was taking steps to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, including ramping up operations at its online retailer The employees at the company’s Ontario stores will be laid while the stores are closed.

“Despite the temporary forced closures in Ontario, our 27 other retail cannabis stores across Alberta and Saskatchewan remain open for the time being, while has recently experienced a doubling of its average weekly sales as people around the world are increasingly shopping online from the safety of their homes for their smoking accessories and cannabis lifestyle products,” said Raj Grover, High Tide’s president and CEO.

Cannabis retailers in Ontario have asked the Ministry of Finance to exercise emergency powers to allow the businesses to offer online ordering and delivery and to permit customers to make curbside pickups of their orders at dispensaries. A ministry spokesperson said that the changes were unlikely to be made at this time, but they could be considered in the future. The province’s order for nonessential businesses to close is scheduled to stay in effect for 14 days.

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