Cannabis industry adapting to pandemic
SUDBURY -- In this COVID-19 era, people throughout the northeast are having a challenging time finding stores that have toilet paper in stock.
Now, for a limited time only, Sudburians can turn to cannabis retailer High Life.
High Life, located in New Sudbury, saw the struggles many in the community were having and decided to reach out to their industry supply chain to see if they could help.
"It was very difficult to obtain such a basic item in Sudbury," says Eugene Konarev, the store's owner. "Since we can buy quite a bit from a channel that we found, let’s give it away. Let’s be a good neighbour and let’s help the community while there is none here."
On Wednesday, 6,000 rolls were dropped off, with the same amount expected to arrive tomorrow.
Staff separated the supply into bags of six rolls and began handing them out early Wednesday morning.
Customers that CTV News talked to are grateful for the giveaway.
"So far, I’ve gone to pretty much every convenience store. I’ve been doing the regular swarms at Walmart, Superstore, it’s awful," said Cedric, one of the early recipients of the free toilet paper. "I’m going to go home and hopefully give this either a little bit to my grandmother because she can’t find this stuff anymore. It’s difficult."
Due to COVID-19, High Life has implemented a number of new safety measures. These include the closure of its popular bud bar, which typically allows customers to get up close and smell up to 90 different strains of cannabis.
Other new safety steps include markings on the floor to ensure proper physical distancing is followed, a door counter to limit the number of customers inside and sanitizer available throughout the store.
Konarev says business has been relatively busier than normal since the pandemic began.
"It’s been up and down. Some days we have an influx of customers as expected and some days it was slower. But overall, if you look at the trend of the last two weeks, it’s been busier," said the cannabis retailer.
Numbers provided by the Ontario Cannabis Store shows its online website has been surging since the onset of the global health crisis.
Saturday, March 14 saw nearly 3,000 orders, which is an 80 per cent increase over an average Saturday.
Those numbers held up over the following week, with Monday March 23 seeing 7,200 online orders, which the OCS says is a single-day record, excluding the launch of legalization in the province.
Earlier this week, the provincial government deemed all cannabis retailers and producers an essential service, exempting it from closures during the province-wide state of emergency.
"The OCS supports the government’s decision to keep cannabis stores open," said Daffyd Roderick, director of communications for the OCS, in a statement. "We built our operations to be able to scale up quickly and deliver for our customers and we are doing exactly that, expanding the number of shifts in our distribution centre and working with our delivery partners to expand."
However, some in the cannabis industry have found the last few weeks to be challenging.
Cole Miller is the CEO and founder of A1 Cannabis. He’s in the middle of launching a new cannabis-infused beverage, which he says is difficult to do with some stores seeing less foot traffic due to the pandemic.
"We’ve also been impacted by, we can’t visit stores," said Miller. "We’re no longer doing staff tastings. We can’t educate the bud tenders who are going to make the recommendations either."
Miller says without the option of in-store marketing materials, they are providing retailers with digital options to add to their television screens. While this is an option he has had to adapt to, Miller fears it won’t be as effective as in-store demonstrations.
"It’s a new market. Our beverages are lower dosed THC/CBD and they are really for the new consumers coming in. A big piece of that is that education with that consumer, making sure they are well educated, they know what they are getting themselves into, they know everything about the product so that first experience they have is really good and they continue to come back," said Miller.
In a statement to CTV News, Brian Gray, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General, defends the government’s decision to deem cannabis retailers and producers as an essential industry.
"There is a risk that closing LCBO and the Ontario Cannabis Stores could create and embolden the illicit market for these goods that would only serve to increase demands on law enforcement and put communities at risk. Keeping these stores open maintains a legal channel for the products," said Gray.