LCBO and cannabis shops deemed essential during COVID-19 pandemic

LCBO customer loading wine into her car, delivering to seniors at risk. Ottawa, ON. March 26, 2020. (Tyler Fleming / CTV News Ottawa)

The Ontario Government has deemed the LCBO, the Beer Store, and cannabis shops an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic, but some are questioning whether they should still be open.

“We heard from mental health and addiction (experts) that it’s absolutely critical to keep that open,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford earlier this week. “There are people out there with addictions and we’re here to support them.”

Ottawa Inner-City Health supervisor Anne Marie Hopkins agrees that the LCBO and pot shops should remain open.  She points to the problem of addiction, and believes there is a hidden problem in the city.

“There are people who need alcohol or cannabis to get through their everyday life,” said Hopkins. “When you cut someone off of alcohol who’s struggling with alcoholism you head into some very serious medical issues that can come up.”

At Superette cannabis shop on Wellington Street, it’s business almost as usual.  The store has setup markers on the ground and limits the number of people in the store at one time. Employees are wearing gloves and hand sanitizer is available for each customer.

Luigi Vallaqa is waiting in line, six feet from the customer in front of him. For Vallaqa, this is a ‘treat’ but understand that people do have addictions and it’s useful for stores like this to remain open. 

“People can have a lot of pain,” he says. “And for medical purposes why not.”

Superette CEO Mimi Lam knows that while some do use cannabis recreationally, for others it can be for their wellbeing and she wants to be able to provide a safe, legal supply.

“Coping mechanisms are very essential to some people,” she says. “We know that cannabis can be helpful in that regard, for either this situation or just in general ... So to be able to provide safe legal access during this time is important to us.”

The LCBO has also taken measures to protect its staff and customers, by limiting people who enter the outlets, as well as shortening operating hours to allow more time to sanitize stores.