Ontario is changing course on allowing cannabis stores to remain open during the province's emergency action in response to curtailing the spread COVID-19. 

Cannabis stores were not listed in an updated list of "essential" busineses released by Ontario on Friday. The government is ordering all businesses not covered by the updated emergency order to close effective as of Saturday, April 4, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. and to remain closed for at least the next 14 days. 

A senior Ontario government official confirmed to BNN Bloomberg that cannabis retail stores will be deemed non-essential and be required to close. Cannabis producers will be allowed to remain operational as they provide a medical product, the official said. 

Ontario allowed the 52 cannabis retail stores that operate in the province to remain after labelling them as "essential" when ordering at-risk workplaces to close on Mar. 24 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Prior to Friday's announcement, several cannabis retailers had reduced their working hours to avoid crowding and better manage customer traffic flow. 

Ontario Cannabis Store director of communications Daffyd Roderick said in an email to BNN Bloomberg that the organization - which manages the province's wholesale pot business and online sales - has taken several steps to increase capacity to manage a larger volume of online orders it has received during the pandemic.

"These steps include working with our service providers to add extra shifts at the distribution centre 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."

The OCS launched same-day delivery of legal cannabis in southern Ontario last year through a partnership with Pineapple Express Delivery. However, privately-owned delivery services are not yet allowed to ship cannabis from non-government retailers to customers in Ontario, although the service is available in other provinces such as Manitoba. 

BNN Bloomberg obtained a letter co-signed by executives from Fire & Flower Holdings Inc. and Organigram Holdings Inc. sent to Ontario finance minister Rod Phillips urging the province to exercise emergency powers to allow licensed cannabis retailers to deliver products purchased online or over the phone to a customer’s residence or to a vehicle outside a licensed retail store. 

A Finance Ministry spokesperson told BNN Bloomberg that the government is unlikely to adopt those suggestions at this period of time, but may consider it in the future. 

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