As cannabis stores close, some must line up at the post office for weed instead. Is that better?

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After Ontario changed course last week and ordered the province’s cannabis stores to close in response to the novel coronavirus, lines at stores visibly lengthened as customers stocked up.

Cannabis stores, some of which had barely opened when the order was issued, aren’t the only place for residents to buy legal weed. They can always order it online from the government-operated Ontario Cannabis Store.

For most people in Ontario, ordering from the OCS means having cannabis sent through Canada Post. But Canada Post no longer delivers packages that require a signature. Customers have to pick up the packages at a post office.

So as a practical matter, people who last week had to line up at a cannabis store to buy weed now have to line up at a post office to pick up the weed they ordered online.

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“I don’t think it’s any better,” says cannabis lawyer Matt Maurer.

“I do think it’s a Canada Post issue. I don’t think there’s anything in the legislation that requires a signature for delivery. You have to be certain that the person buying it is a person who is of age, that you’re not handing it over to someone who is underage. But that can be done by looking at a driver’s licence.”

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Cannabis stores were initially defined as essential businesses in Ontario but were cut from that list last week. Alcohol retail was allowed to continue.

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The OCS offers a free three-day delivery service operated by a private courier as an alternative to Canada Post, but it’s only available in south-central Ontario, and most residents of the province fall outside the area it serves.

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The courier company has worked out a way to verify that a cannabis buyer is of age while also obeying social distancing rules, says OCS spokesperson Daffyd Roderick.

“They are wearing gloves and masks,” he says. “You can show your ID through a window, or through a glass door. They look at it from a distance, they do not approach within the two-metre boundary unless there’s glass between the two, and they leave the parcel on the stairs. There’s no need for a physical signature.”

The OCS hopes to expand the area the courier serves to other large centres like Ottawa, and has a goal of making it available to 70 per cent of the Ontario market, up from the 40 per cent it serves now, Roderick said. On the other hand, the area is limited by the fact that all deliveries are sent from a central warehouse in Oakville.

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Private stores could also be allowed to do home delivery, or click-and-collect pickups from stores, where people pre-order online and pick up cannabis from a store with minimal interaction, Maurer argues.

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“I’m all for everyone staying safe and physically distant, but I do think that you could do this in a click-and-collect or delivery way where people are not put in jeopardy. If you can have Home Depot doing curbside, and you can have grocery stores doing curbside, there’s got to be a way to do it.”

“I just know how much benefit there is to the people who own those stores, because they’ve been waiting so long to get licensed and (are) spending so much money,” he said. “And the people who work at those stores … need money for rent and mortgage payments and groceries and things like that.”

As a practical matter, some people who buy through legal recreational channels are actually medical users, he pointed out.

An online petition to allow private stores to stay open for deliveries and pre-orders has over 3,000 signatures Monday.

Canada Post did not respond to a request for comment.

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