A shortage of weed is causing chaos in Canada’s nascent legal cannabis regime. The country legalized the recreational use of pot on Oct. 17 and since then, retailers have been swamped with demand that federal cannabis producers have been unable to satisfy.
The sale of legal weed in Canada is managed at the provincial level and each province has their own particular rules around retail sales. Some provinces allow private stores to sell cannabis, while others have a government monopoly on weed sales in their territories.
But production of cannabis is handled exclusively by federally-licensed producers that supply all the provinces, and already those producers are struggling to meet consumer demand.
The first two weeks of legalization have seen both private and government-run weed businesses overwhelmed by in-store and online demand for cannabis products (including dried flower, oils, and pre-rolled joints.) Many are now struggling to fulfill a backlog of orders, leading to delays of up to two weeks and, in some cases, spontaneously cancelled customer orders. The situation has been compounded by an ongoing strike by Canadian postal workers. And it means that customers are turning back to retailers that were operating in a grey zone before weed turned legal.
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Jordan Sinclair, vice president of communications for Canopy Growth, Canada’s largest federally-licensed producer, told VICE News that the company has been steadily increasing production capacity since legalization, and that he expects the current lack of weed to be a short-term problem.
“October 17 was a starting point. In the next couple months, [weed] supplies will get much better, because cannabis is being grown right now,” Sinclair said in a phone call.
“We’ve been consistently increasing our capacity [to grow cannabis], but there’s a lag in agriculture — you have to get a license for a greenhouse, grow and harvest. It will become easier to have products on shelves later in the year.”
In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, private brick-and-mortar weed stores won’t be open to the public until April 2019. Until then, legal weed can only be bought from the government-run online Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS), which has experienced some of the most serious problems in meeting consumer demand.
Bloomberg reported on Nov. 1 that more than 1,000 weed customers have filed complaints with the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman about the OCS since Oct. 17, citing delayed deliveries, poor customer service and orders that have been cancelled without warning. The OCS reportedly received more than 100,000 online orders for cannabis in the first 24 hours after it was opened to the public.
Paul Dubé, the Ontario Ombudsman, said in a statement that his office has “assigned a team of staff to triage complaints and resolve them quickly wherever possible, and we are in regular contact with senior officials of the OCS.”
VICE News reached out to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who scrapped a previous plan for government-run brick-and-mortar weed stores in favour of a private retail regime, for comment on the current cannabis shortage. A spokesperson for the Premier directed our inquiry to the provincial Minister of Finance, who referred us back to OCS “for issues [regarding] OCS operations.”
VICE News was unable to get through to OCS’ media relations department on Nov. 2.
Québec’s provincial weed monopoly, the Société Québecoise du Cannabis (SQDC) announced on Oct. 26 that its stores would only be open four days a week due to product shortages. Currently, nearly all of the products on the SQDC’s website are listed as out of stock.
In Alberta, where private retail pot shops are allowed, the ongoing weed shortage is also frustrating customers and retailers who have been unable to keep up with demand. The provincial regulator for cannabis expects the shortage to continue for several months, as producers try to grow enough dope to meet demand in every province.
“Certainly, we’re seeing a supply issue,” Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission spokesperson Heather Holmen told the Lethbridge Herald.
“It’s a national issue right now.”
Previous reporting from VICE Canada explored why producers have thus far been unable to keep up with demand.
“Most [licensed producers have] been wearing pinstripe suits their whole career. They’ve never spent any time on a farm and they don’t know shit about agriculture,” said one federally-licensed producer in British Columbia when asked for his take on the situation.
Ironically, British Columbia — famous for its cannabis consumption and culture — has had some of the slowest sales of legal weed in the country since Oct. 17. Currently, only two cannabis retail stores are operating in the province.
Weed shortages are also impacting medical cannabis patients, who had exclusive access to legal marijuana in Canada for years before cannabis was legalized for recreational purposes. In provinces including B.C. and Ontario, grey-market cannabis dispensaries flourished in the lead up to legalization: now, both medical and recreational customers are turning back to these retailers to get their weed during the shortage.
Black market sellers of cannabis are also poised to profit off the lack of legal cannabis currently available across the country. Previously, VICE Canada spoke with a black market dealer who predicted the current shortage and suggested that black market dealers will continue to thrive for years to come.
“Most of my customers have told me they want to stay [with me],” the dealer said.
Cover image by Anthony Tuccitto for VICE News