On March 17, 2020 the Premier of Ontario declared a state of emergency in Ontario and ordered the closure of non-essential businesses in the province. Authorized cannabis retail stores were initially deemed essential businesses. On April 3, 2020 a revised list was issued, further reducing the number of essential businesses. Cannabis retail stores are among the businesses that have been ordered to close as of April 4, 2020.
To continue the fight against the illegal cannabis market and support cannabis retail store operators and legal recreational cannabis consumers, the Government of Ontario has issued an Emergency Order to temporarily allow authorized cannabis retail stores to offer delivery and curbside pick-up. These changes are effective immediately and will last for the duration of the period of declared provincial emergency, with the possibility of extension if the government’s Emergency Order on business closures is extended.
- Products for delivery and curbside pick-up are limited to cannabis and other things permitted for sale at a cannabis retail store.
- The maximum purchase amount of 30 grams of dried cannabis (or equivalent) per person remains in place.
- The permitted hours of sale, delivery and curbside pick-up are from Monday to Sunday, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 11 p.m.
- Retailers must continue to comply with all laws, including the Registrar’s Standards for Cannabis Retail Stores. For instance, retailers must continue to ensure cannabis is not sold or delivered to anyone under 19 or who appears to be intoxicated, and that cannabis is securely stored.
- Only the licence holder or their direct employees are permitted to be involved in the sale and/or delivery of cannabis and must hold a certification from CannSell.
- Cannabis must be provided in its original packaging and delivered to the customer in a way that ensures the contents are not visible to minors.
Additional Key Requirements for Curbside Pick-up:
- Customers must order and pay for their products by phone or online. Payment must be completed at the time of the order, in advance of pick-up.
- The retailer or employee must ask for and inspect identification if they suspect a customer is under 25 years old.
- The individual picking up the cannabis must be the same individual who purchased the cannabis.
- The location for picking up the cannabis and other things must be an outdoor area in close proximity to the retail store. Customers are not allowed into the store.
- Store staff may only distribute cannabis to customers in areas that are clearly captured by the store’s surveillance cameras.
- Licensees must comply with all government directives concerning social distancing. The AGCO encourages licensees to continue practicing social distancing and to make efforts to promote a safe distance between customers in curbside lineups.
Additional Key Requirements for Delivery:
- Retailers may not use the services of a third-party for the purpose of delivery. However, if the authorization holder or employee is securely in possession of the cannabis at all times, the authorization holder or employee can be transported to a delivery location by a person who is not the authorization holder or employee.
- Customers must order and pay for their products by phone or online. Payment must be completed at the time of the order, in advance of delivery.
- The licensed retailer or employee must deliver the cannabis to the residential address specified in the order.
- Cannabis must be delivered to the purchaser or another person who lives at the address provided and who is at least 19 years of age.
- Retailers are permitted to charge for delivery.
- Cannabis and accessories must be kept secure up until the point of distribution to a customer. For instance, the storing of undelivered cannabis and/or accessories overnight in a vehicle will not satisfy the AGCO’s requirements for secure storage.
- Retailers must record and retain the name and address of the purchaser and the residential address where any cannabis is delivered (Registrar’s Standard 8.1.8)
- Cannabis is not permitted to be sold for delivery to specified First Nations reserves which have passed resolutions prohibiting such activity.
Retail Operator Licence and Retail Store Authorization Application Update
During this period, the government is placing a temporary pause on the issuing of retail store authorizations. The AGCO will not issue new store authorizations until the government’s Emergency Order has been lifted. In the meantime, the AGCO will continue to issue Retail Operator Licences and Retail Manager Licences and will process store authorization applications and conduct eligibility assessments to the extent possible, so that businesses will be prepared to move forward once restrictions are lifted.
Burden Reduction Measures and Helpful Clarifications:
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AGCO has reviewed current regulatory requirements and has made the following changes to ease administrative burden on cannabis retailers.
The AGCO recognizes that criminal background checks may be difficult to obtain due to these exceptional circumstances, which have led to a reduction of services being provided by OPP and local police.
The AGCO is therefore providing guidance to Standard 1.1.1: As a cannabis licensee, you must obtain a criminal background check for employees as part of the hiring process as soon as is practicable.
This temporary measure will be discontinued once COVID-19 pandemic service interruptions are lifted.
Standard 8.2 has been amended to require full inventory cannabis counts on a monthly basis, rather than on a weekly basis, as was previously required.
This amendment will be reviewed once COVID-19 pandemic service interruptions are lifted.
Minimizing Contact Under COVID-19
The AGCO has heard from some cannabis retailers who wish to leave the door to their stores open to minimize customer/staff contact with surfaces.
Cannabis retail store owners, operators and managers may choose to leave a door open, for example during curbside pick-up, provided that in doing so they remain in compliance with the Registrar’s Standards for Cannabis Retail Stores.
The Registrar’s Standards for Cannabis Retail Stores require that licensees ensure cannabis and accessories are not visible from exterior of premises. This requirement continues to apply.
Staffing Concerns -Clarification
Given these uncertain times, the AGCO reminds cannabis retail store owners/operators that licensed retail managers may be able to perform some of their duties remotely.
Online Payment Processing for Click and Collect Orders
For the duration of this Emergency Order, payment processing must now be completed online or by telephone. The AGCO reminds licensees that online payment processing has and continues to be an option for retailers, provided there is compliance with the Registrar’s Standards for Cannabis Retail Stores. This includes the use of third-party payment processors.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, should you no longer wish to pursue a licence application currently in process (i.e. Retail Operator Licence, Retail Store Authorization or Cannabis Retail Manager), you have the option to cancel your application and receive a refund upon request.
Regulatory Reporting Requirements
The AGCO has amended the Regulatory Reporting Requirements - Cannabis as follows:
Requirement #1 - Change or Termination of Retail Manager has been changed to:
- Termination of Retail Manager for cause
Requirement #2 - Change of Officers, Directors or Partners: The notice time frame has been changed to:
- 30 business days
Requirement #3 - Operator Organizational Chart – Cannabis: The notice time frame has been changed to:
- 30 business days
Requirement #7 - Changes to Store Layout: The notice time frame has been changed to:
- within 15 days of the change
Requirement # 10 - Cannabis Periodic Regulatory Reporting:
- The description, regulatory authority and notice time frame relating to weekly physical inventory count discrepancies report, cannabis product destruction on a case-by-case basis and cannabis product transfer between authorized stores under the same Retailer have been updated.
The AGCO remains committed to protecting public safety and ensuring cannabis is sold, picked-up and delivered in a responsible manner. The AGCO continues to work closely with the Government of Ontario and the Ontario Cannabis Store to find ways of supporting Ontarians and the sectors we regulate throughout this difficult time.