On June 19th of this year, just a few months ago, Canada’s Senate voted in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis throughout the country. Recreational cannabis sales, however, didn’t officially begin in Canada until October 17th. Online sales started at midnight that night but due to unpredicted levels of online sales, many businesses quickly sold out, some within hours of legalization. That day, long lines awaited any Canadian citizen who wished to purchase cannabis legally for the first time. The next day was no different.
Now, only two short weeks later, Canadian cannabis dispensaries across the country are officially running out of legal marijuana to sell. Cannabis shortages are affecting recreational cannabis sales in multiple Canadian provinces, including Ottawa and Manitoba; due to unexpected levels of demand and without sufficient supply of recreational cannabis, many dispensaries have been even forced to reduce their hours of operation. A few have even been forced to close down altogether, for the time being. Others chose not to open at all because of delays in receiving their own supply of product.
The Ontario Cannabis Store
In Ontario, it's the same story, but with a twist. Currently, the only legal place to purchase cannabis in Ontario is through the online Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) being run by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. Orders have been backed up for weeks, with reports indicating that there were 100,000 orders placed within the first 24 hours of legalization.
Customers are in an outrage as orders were canceled left and right without any notification. Some customers are reporting that they still have temporary holds on their cards from their canceled orders. Customers who were successfully able to place their orders are seeing late deliveries, while some of those who received their deliveries are complaining that it wasn't what they ordered.
Multiple reasons have been proposed for the shortages. Demand certainly exceeded expectations, but given the popularity of Canada’s medical cannabis program, many believe that dispensaries should have been better prepared. However, joining the cannabis industry in Canada is harder than it looks. The process of receiving approval from the Canadian government to legally distribute legal cannabis is lengthy, with applicants having to wait up to a year before being able to begin sales.
According to an email written by Manitoba Crown corporation spokeswoman, “Every province – not just Manitoba – is receiving substantially less cannabis that originally requested…Retailers will be receiving staggered shipments in the next few weeks (some daily) in an effort to meet their requests.”
Dispensary owners that did receive approval far enough in advance to open their doors on October 17th have cited initial shortages in bulk supply levels as being responsible for the fast declines in available inventory following legalization. Said the owner of Waldo’s 420 store, located in Medicine Hat, Patrick Wallace, “It’s a mess. The supply is just a mess. They should’ve worked on the supply before they legalized it. They needed a lot more supply.” Recent postal service strikes have even been blamed as reasons for delays in shipping.
Lack of legal product is not only affecting recreational cannabis users in Canada; many Canadian medical marijuana patients have lost access to much-needed medications due to the temporary cannabis shortages. Some medical patients were even warned ahead of time after predicted shortages became imminent.
Said Tammy Jarbeau, spokesperson for Health Canada, “The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that Canadians who require cannabis for medical purposes have access to a legal and quality controlled supply. While there is no regulatory requirement for licensed producers to prioritize sales to individuals who require cannabis for medical purposes over non-medical sales, it is expected that they will do so. In fact, a number of existing licensed producers have committed publicly to doing so.”