Access to safe cannabis is a top priority for the Ontario government

Published Apr 17, 2020 12:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Oleksii Liskonih

Much of the world remains on lockdown, as we attempt to flatten the curve in COVID-19 cases in hopes of saving lives while biding time as the race to discover a cure continues. This outbreak has made some pretty significant changes to most of our lives, as larger gatherings are canceled, social distancing is more frequently enforced, and a lot of the most vulnerable now fear for their health, which is why it was so important for the provincial government of Ontario to make the right decisions, and it seems that, so far, they’re moving in a direction that supports cannabis consumers.

An essential service

When Ontarians were hit with the first wave of non-essential closures brought forward by Doug Ford, which included schools, cannabis dispensaries were deemed to be an essential service, which left them open to the public. This was a massive victory in the eyes of consumers everywhere, as it’s the first time since prohibition that any government has acknowledged the industry in this way.

The scare

Unfortunately, the widespread celebrations only lasted a little while and eventually, they were followed by reservations, after the third adjustment to the list of essential businesses that could remain open, excluded cannabis dispensaries on every level. This led to the closure of hundreds of license holding stores right across the province with only a few hours’ notice, and that had some cannabis consumers deeply concerned, as we have thousands of medicinal and self-professed recreational users, who would be adversely impacted, but not quite in the way that you might think.

What happened

For just under 24 hours, citizens of Ontario patiently awaited news from the provincial government, as it was almost immediately that pressure was applied by advocates and non-profit organizations to reverse or adjust the temporary emergency order to reflect a fairer and more reasonable stance. During this critical time, though it might not seem like long at first, the decision created a ripple effect, which translated to swaths of customers flooding black market dispensaries.

There were two big problems with this situation with the first being perhaps the most obvious, as the legal cannabis industry in the region already struggled to compete with the illegal competition, and being forced to shut down while their counterparts flourished would only exacerbate the pre-existing issue, but some experts are saying that there was an even bigger reason for the provincial government to re-assess the situation, and alter the order.

The entire legal cannabis market as it stands now is not competitive as far as prices or accessibility, as until recently, they were not allowed to deliver, and they had to absorb a high tax rate that illicit dispensaries simply don’t, because they aren’t claiming their income. What sells this new category title is quality and safety, and assurance that very few black-market dealers can offer consumers.

What that means is no mold, harsh chemicals, or other contaminants that may be hazardous to a person’s health, much of which is commonly found inside of unregulated cannabis products. Advocates everywhere know how important it is to get good quality medicine, especially if you’re someone with a pre-existing medical condition who may be at higher risk of falling ill, and this argument is one that was put in front of the provincial government, as they came to their latest big decision.

Dispensaries allowed to re-open with changes

Under the newest rules that Doug Ford announced, one day after the closure of hundreds of cannabis dispensaries, storefronts could re-open, but with a catch, as they had to adhere to new conditions that could align more with current social distancing recommendations from the Ontario health minister.

Though it has taken some juggling for dispensaries to rearrange staff and the way that they do things to accommodate the new rules, most dispensary owners and consumers are applauding the decision, but at the same time, they are also saying that the change should have come long before the outbreak.

Under the new adjusted order, cannabis dispensaries may remain open to serve the public, but they cannot physically allow customers inside of the store, which means that they must adapt to either weed delivery or curbside pickup, as most of the restaurants of the region have also been asked to do so. This reduces the number of physical interactions and increases safety for both customers and employees, but until now, the law actually prohibits these stores from selling anywhere outside of a licensed facility.

The Ontario Cannabis Store was able to keep one leg up over the competition by being the only approved weed delivery service in the region, and cannabis store owners have long been disappointed with the restriction, so for many, it was bittersweet to receive the news that they could open in a manner they had once only dreamed about.

Regardless of the past, it seems that the provincial government is now willing to take a hit in sales, to increase access to safe cannabis products for consumers, and that is a commendable move that truly deserves some recognition.

Why cannabis dispensaries are considered an essential service

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