Who’s to blame for Canada’s cannabis shortages?

A lot has happened since Canada legalized cannabis on Oct. 17 and with shortages being reported as early as Day One of legalization, one of the biggest sticking issues for Canadians across the country was getting their legal cannabis in the first place!

As Canada’s licensed producers struggle to meet demand, there’s no doubt that the legalization roll-out has been a massive gong show- from hour-long line-ups outside retail outlets to government-run cannabis websites crashing to sold-out stock that could take months to replenish.

The sad reality is in the (almost) two weeks since legalization, it is still far easier to get your cannabis from the black market (whether it’s a trusted a dealer or illicit dispensary) than it is from legal sources.

But who’s to blame?

The Licensed Producers

The licensed producers themselves deserve some of the blame, according to Dan Sutton, founder of Tantalus Labs, who pointed out to VICE:

“Most of these guys, they’ve been wearing pinstripe suits their whole career. They’ve never spent any time on a farm and they don’t know shit about agriculture”.

He went on:

“Most licensed producers still have no idea how to cultivate cannabis in a repeatable way.

The institutional knowledge needed to reliably grow massive amounts of cannabis simply doesn’t exist and the industry won’t figure it out for a while.”

His statements are damning, yet true, as many LP’s are run by former government insiders and cops whose only previous experience with cannabis was criminalizing those who grew and used it, so is it any wonder that many LP’s don’t seem to have a clue what they’re doing?

Rosalie Wyonch, an analyst with non-profit research firm C.D. Howe Institute, told VICE:

“Canada’s legal weed supply is only like to meet 30 to 60 percent of demand for at least a year.

But a variety of factors are at play, and no one is completely guilty and no one is completely innocent.”

The government

By refusing to bring the black market into the light, the government helped create this situation of country-wide shortages because it was more interested in fighting the black market and excluding it from the legal industry than trying to transfer decades of homegrown knowledge and growing expertise over to the legal regime.

Health Canada has been historically slow in licensing producers to grow cannabis, and although it had been ramping up its numbers of producers as legalization got closer and closer, it’s clear that it still wasn’t enough.

Cannabis, on average, takes between 3-6+ months from seed to harvest, so even if a producer was licensed in July that doesn’t guarantee they’d have any cannabis available ready by Oct. 17.

The provinces also deserve some of the blame as they hold a monopoly over wholesale distribution, which means that all legal cannabis retailers must get their cannabis from the government. That means it was the provincial governments’ responsibility to sign those supply deals with the licensed producers to ensure that they’d have enough cannabis to meet demand.

Obviously, that did not happen for many places across the country.

How bad are the shortages?

The shortages and delays have gotten so bad that in Ontario, residents are making formal complaints to the provincial ombudsman, who’s in charge of most of Ontario’s government agencies, including the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS).

The OCS is blaming “unprecedented demand” for the delays as its online store received over 150,000 orders in the first week alone.

Making matters worse for those in Canada’s most populous province is that there are zero legal cannabis stores open, and none are expected to be open until April 2019- which means the only place Ontarians can legally purchase recreational cannabis is online- and some people, according to Global News, have been waiting for over two weeks!!

Compounding things even further for customers waiting for their legal cannabis is Canada Post’s rotating strikes.

Residents are rightfully angry, and the delays are enough to push people back to the black market where hundreds of illegal dispensaries across the province still operate, although dozens of dispensaries voluntarily shut down on Oct. 17 in the hopes of transitioning to the legal market, and the ones that have chosen to remain open are at risk of being raided by the police.

VICE reported that “Quebec in particular only secured half of what demand would be” and in addition to long lines at its government-run stores, the province recently announced those stores would only be open 4 days a week.

The SQDC, the government agency in charge of Quebec’s cannabis retail system, said in a statement:

“Given the craze created by the legalization of cannabis and the scarcity of product across Canada, the SQDC expects significant short-term supply challenges for the branches.”


Featured image courtesy of CBC.


CTV News: Toronto police have shut down 11 unlicensed pot shops since legalization.

Global News: Ontarians fed up with cannabis delivery delays are complaining to the provincial ombudsman.

Reuters: Why Canada’s pot legalization won’t stop black-market sales.

VICE: Canada Is Already Experiencing Cannabis Shortages.

VICE: Canada May Not Have Enough Legal Weed for a Year.