Bonnefire had been open for just over week when it was forced to close.
The cannabis dispensary officially opened in the old BMV bookstore on Toronto’s Queen Street West on March 27, around three weeks into the coronavirus pandemic. Bonnefire implemented safety policies, including providing hand sanitizer and disposable gloves to customers, not accepting cash, and ensuring customers and staff maintained six feet of space between each other.
They also encouraged use of their “click-and-collect” system, which allows customers to place orders in advance to limit time spent in the store.
But on April 3, the province updated the list of essential workplaces and businesses and cannabis shops were no longer included.
“We strongly believe that deeming cannabis retailers as a non-essential business will do more harm than good to Ontarians, and may drive sales back into the illegal market,” said Bonnefire’s owners, who asked to remain anonymous, in a statement to NOW Magazine.
On April 7, they got their wish. The province relaxed the rules to allow authorized dispensaries to offer delivery and curbside pick-up services.
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) said in a statement on Tuesday night that this “temporary measure is the result of an emergency order introduced by the government of Ontario to help fight against the illegal cannabis market.”
The new order will last 14 days and could be extended if the province’s emergency order to close businesses is extended.
Stores will be allowed to sell, deliver and offer curbside pick-up from Monday to Sunday, between 9 am and 11 pm. The maximum purchase amount is 30 grams of dried cannabis (or equivalent) per transaction.
During this period, the AGCO is also pausing the issuing of cannabis retail store licenses but will continue processing retail operator licenses and process store authorization applications so new businesses can move forward when the emergency measures are lifted.
Bonnefire and a coalition of other licensed retailers had lobbied the province to designate cannabis stores as an “essential service” and allow them to make deliveries or curbside pickup.
As of last week, restaurants and bars in Ontario are allowed to deliver alcoholic beverages with food orders.
Prior to the pandemic, legal cannabis shops faced challenges, as they had to compete with black-market dispensaries and delivery services that often undercut their prices. Jason Krulicki, the owner of One Plant in Kensington Market, worries the pandemic will exacerbate this issue.
“We’re frustrated as black-market delivery service and brick-and-mortar stores are brazenly advertising their services to fill the gap and obviously don’t care to invest in protocols like we have established to protect customers and staff,” said Krulicki.
One Plant officially opened in Kensington Market on Friday, April 3, at 4 p.m., and was then forced to close the next day at 10 p.m., when the new provincial order went into effect. Like Bonnefire, One Plant had taken extra precautions in the store, including installing “sneeze guards” at all POS areas and setting up physical distancing markers inside and outside the store.
Ontarians can also order weed and edibles online from the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) and then have them delivered via Canada Post.
In response to the coronavirus, British Columbia has permitted legal dispensaries to do curbside pickup.
NORML Canada, the advocacy group for cannabis-law reform, had called on the province to allow legal cannabis stores to do home delivery or curbside pickup from dispensaries.
“There is no question that Canadians will continue to seek access to cannabis throughout COVID-19. What remains to be decided is whether, or to what extent, these transactions will occur in the legal market,” the statement reads.
With files from Kevin Ritchie
This story was updated on April 8.