Sudbury pot shops reopen for curbside pickup

SUDBURY — Less than a week after being shut down by the provincial government, Sudbury’s two legal cannabis retailers are once again open for business.

Last week, the Ford government released an updated list of businesses considered essential and cannabis stores did not make the cut. They were forced to close by midnight on April 4.

“I guess that there was a lot of lobbying going on in Toronto, specifically on that fact that they had left 1,200 LCBO and Beer Stores open but closed 45 cannabis stores and they were really afraid that it would draw back to the black market,” said Felicia Fahey, general manager of Highlife in Sudbury. “So, we got a call saying that you can open, but you can only do curbside or delivery options.”

The official announcement from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario was made online April 7.

With no previous infrastructure set up for curbside pickup, Eric Snow, general manager of Sudbury’s other cannabis store, Canna Cabana, said staff had to think fast.

“I basically just brainstormed with a few of my teammates how we can keep everyone as safe as possible, as streamlined as possible and as an effective storefront still,” said Snow.

Snow said they quickly developed an online payment platform, which is now the only way the store is completing transactions.

“You go there, pick what tickles your fancy, put in your payment method. From there, you would come to our store, let us know that you are at the storefront, we will come out and check your ID as well as your payment method and then you can be on your way as long as everything matches up,” said Snow.

Since launching on Thursday, Fahey says the response and demand from the community has been swift and plentiful.

“It’s been really overwhelming. We ended up getting the system up and running on Thursday and it was pretty much a regular business day. That’s the number of orders came through, we went from 11 in the morning to 9 p.m., steady. I sort of anticipated that we could run the gauntlet with maybe two to four cashes going, and within the first 20 minutes, we realized it was going to be all hands on deck,” said Fahey.

With very little time to plan or prepare, Fahey said they have run into some challenges launching a new operation.

“We’ve probably lost about half our staff, either to child care issues or people that were just nervous and wanted to stay home,” said Fahey.

Currently, Highlife is in the process of developing its online payment system. In the meantime, orders are placed on the company’s website and a staff member then calls and processes the payment over the phone. Fahey said orders can be ready in as little as 10 minutes. For now, they will be holding off on delivery.

“With the liability around insurance, since we don’t normally offer it, we haven’t really looked into it yet. This is a brand new process for us in itself, so I think we’re going to try to get used to this for a couple weeks,” said Fahey.

In the announcement of re-opening cannabis stores for curbside pickup or delivery, the AGCO said much of the decision was based on fighting the black market. Snow said this doesn’t surprise him.

“I would imagine that the second we got closed down all of the old players were receiving text messages and things like that, and I would imagine that that information got out fairly fast so the government acted quickly in that regard to try to keep everything in the legal stand front and keep it in the ‘white market’ as opposed to what was going on,” said Snow.