Expect no quick end to Canada-wide cannabis shortages, producers warn

Provinces including British Columbia, Alberta have all reported varying degrees of shortages

The supply shortages that have plagued many provinces in the first month of legal cannabis will likely persist for years, industry insiders say.

Provinces including British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have all reported varying degrees of shortages.

New Brunswick was forced to temporarily close more than half its stores, while the Quebec Cannabis Corporation has reduced its store opening hours to four days a week. Labrador’s only legal cannabis store said it was forced to temporarily close after being without any product for nearly two weeks.

“Some licensed producers … have been unable to deliver the volumes that they had originally committed to,” said Kate Bilney, a spokeswoman for the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch.

Khurram Malik, CEO of the Toronto-based cannabis company Biome Grow Inc., said the lack of supply is due in part to the tough regulations imposed by Health Canada on the country’s 132 licensed producers, and the time required by companies to develop a quality and compliant product.

He said the federal department also took too long to approve licences.

“The rules here are so difficult to grow cannabis — quite frankly more difficult than anywhere else in the world — that if you’re a new licence holder and you’ve never done this before, it’s going to take you a year, year-and-a-half, or two years to get any decent, consistent quality product out the door in any predictable volumes,” said Malik, adding it’s much easier and cheaper to grow in jurisdictions such as California.

“The good thing with that is, yes, it makes things difficult domestically, but the rest of the world looks at us as outright experts in this. They say if you can grow in Canada, you can grow anywhere.”

Malik said he suspects some companies did stockpile cannabis leading up to Oct. 17, but logistics such as packaging and shipping have held up distribution as producers navigate the red tape of a brand new sector.

“There may be empty store shelves right now in various provinces, but there’s product sitting in vaults ready to move. That will clean itself out in the coming weeks,” said Malik, whose company has facilities under development in Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

“Once that’s out of the way, then you’re going to have intermittent shortages throughout 2019 and into 2020 as people produce and ship right away.”

READ MORE: 2/3 of Canadians don’t know their workplace rules for cannabis: poll

READ MORE: 10 things still illegal in the new age of recreational cannabis

Health Canada said it has taken steps to improve the licensing and capacity of producers, including increasing approved production capacity from 185,000 square metres to more than 1.2 million square metres since May 2017.

The department declined a request for an interview. But a statement from spokeswoman Tammy Jarbeau acknowledged that product shortages would likely continue “in the months ahead.”

“As with any new industry where there is considerable consumer demand, we expect there may be periods where inventories of some products run low or, in some cases, run out,” said Jarbeau in an email.

“Health Canada remains confident that there is sufficient supply of cannabis overall to meet market demand now and into the future.”

The department said given the long-standing prohibition of cannabis, there were no established benchmarks to precisely estimate demand levels, or to determine which products would be in high demand.

“As the overall supply chain gains experience in the Canadian marketplace, it is expected that such localized and product-specific shortages will become far fewer in number,” she said.

Brenda and Trevor Tobin, the mother-and-son owners of Labrador City’s High North, said demand at the store currently far outweighs the available supply.

The shop sold all of its cannabis in the first three hours on legalization day, and in the weeks following, products dried up for almost two weeks.

WATCH: Inside a marijuana manufacturing facility

Brenda Tobin said she continues to sell product faster than producers are able to deliver it. She said that has prompted some of her customers to buy cannabis illegally.

“A lot of them have said, ‘Well I guess it’s back to the black market’,” said Tobin. “We hate to hear that, but I’m assuming if they want their product, they’re going to get it one way or the other.”

She said product availability has also been restricted as producers send lists of available products, rather than the shop being able to request certain products, she said.

Authorities in B.C. and Alberta said licensed producers have not been able to deliver on the volumes they had originally committed to, but neither province provided specifics.

“While we forecasted and planned for this level of demand, we did not anticipate the supply challenges,” said Heather Holmen, manager of communications for Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis. “The shortage of product is a Canada-wide challenge.”

The Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation said it received less than 40 per cent of the product it ordered from 14 licensed producers in August, but was able to bring in inventory from a P.E.I. producer days before legalization to help address the shortage.

The shortages meant that three Nova Scotia cannabis stores closed early a few hours early on three occasions during the first week of legalization. There have not been any closures since then.

Cannabis NB said it received 20 to 30 per cent of its order for legalization day. It said 12 of the province’s 20 stores were forced to temporarily close in the last few weeks, but have all since reopened.

“Temporary closures are sometimes required to allow for new inventory to arrive,” Cannabis NB said in an email. “We expect supply levels to eventually normalize, however, the demand is consistent, and supply is a challenge.”

Meanwhile in Ontario — where its online store is the only way to legally purchase recreational cannabis until brick-and-mortar stores are put in place next year — the provincial ombudsman has received more than 1,000 complaints related to delivery delays, poor customer service and issues with billing.

Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said this week that the online Ontario Cannabis Store was returning to its original delivery time of one to three days, after receiving 200,000 orders since Oct. 17.

Ray Gracewood, chief commercial officer for the New Brunswick-based OrganiGram, said cannabis companies knew it would be a challenge to fulfil the demand during the first few months following legalization, and a shortage was inevitable as producers play catch-up.

“There’s a huge novelty factor and I think it probably has really captured the imagination of Canadians in general,” said Gracewood. “It’s a validation that Canadian consumers are willing to embrace regulated and legalized product.”

Gracewood said Canadian consumers have a whole new world of cannabis products to look forward to, and he expects producers will start developing product niches.

Ottawa has said it is aiming to make edibles containing cannabis and cannabis concentrates legal by next October.

Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE - Nathan Cullen speaks to media in Smithers, B.C., Friday, February 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
More calls come in for Cullen’s removal as NDP candidate

Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs demand Cullen’s removal. Ellis says, There’s no place in B.C. for racism

BC Liberal Party candidate for the North Coast Roy Jones Jr. will hold virtual face-to-face meetings for North Coast communities on Oct. 18. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
BC Liberal Candidate Roy Jones Jr, will meet constituents virtually

Face to face conversations will be held on Oct. 18 for North Coast communities

Kelly Lynn Whitney has been acclaimed as the successful candidate on Oct. 16, in the Village of Port Clements by Election. Seen in photos Kelly Whitney-Gould is pictured putting finishing touches on “Ms. Gnomer’s Home 4 Wayward Folk.” (Kelly Whitney-Gould/Submitted photo)
Kelly Lynn Whitney acclaimed in By Election

Village of Port Clements By Election success

Stikine provincial election candidates (clockwise from top left): Nathan Cullen, NDP; Darcy Repen, Rural BC Party; Rod Taylor, Christian Heritage; and Gordon Sebastian, BC Liberals.
‘Where is Annita McPhee?’: Cullen under fire from opening salvo of all-candidates forum

Four Stikine candidates spar during online debate from Prestige Hudson Bay Lodge in Smithers

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

The BC Ferries vessel the Queen of Oak Bay. (News Bulletin file photo)
‘Buy a boat,’ Horgan advises anti-maskers on BC Ferries

NDP leader John Horgan talks COVID-19 misinformation

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Most Read