Canada Faces Year-Long Legal Marijuana Shortage

By Paul Gaita 11/09/18

Supply issues began almost immediately after recreational marijuana officially became legal in mid-October. 

hand holding  cutout of a marijuana leaf in the middle of a shortage in Canada

Less than a month after declaring marijuana legal, Canada's legal dispensaries are struggling to meet the overwhelming demand for cannabis, which may remain in short supply or out of stock.

News outlets like Vice have laid the blame on licensed producers that grossly overestimated their ability to deliver their product in massive amounts, though High Times noted that the supply issue is a temporary problem that will be corrected once growers can bring their production up to speed. How long that will take remains unclear, though some projections see the dry spell lasting up to 18 months.

As the New York Times observed, shortage issues began almost immediately after the October 17 launch of legalization in the country. Some provinces were simply unprepared to meet the staggering demand. In Ontario, where physical cannabis stores will not be open to the public until April 2019, the sole online retailer received more than 150,000 orders in a single week, while in British Columbia, just two government-sanctioned retailers—one a 10-hour drive from Vancouver—are available to customers. 

But even provinces with more retailers find themselves unable to keep up with orders. Quebec has 12 shops, but has been forced to close them for three days a week in order to catch up with the demand. 

According to one industry member, the problem lies with licensers who saw the cannabis industry as the means to a quick cash influx. "Most of these guys, they've been wearing pinstripe suits their whole career," said Dan Sutton, founder of Tantalus Labs in British Columbia. "They've never spent any time on a farm, and they don't know shit about agriculture."

Sutton said that time and understanding are crucial to creating a sustainable cannabis facility with repeatable product. Tantalus Labs took four years to design and build its greenhouse, but according to Sutton, other companies have devoted only months to their operations.

Additionally, few of the growers hired by these facilities have the experience to maintain large cannabis crops, which have specific requirements for irrigation and nutrients that, if not met, can spell doom for a crop. 

With those factors in play, Sutton said that "we will not see anything close to equitable supply relative to demand in the next 18 months." But other industry members believe that patience is the key to solving the shortage problem. Jordan Sinclair, vice president of communications for Canopy, the largest legal cannabis producer in the world, said that some product has yet to reach the level of maturity needed for cultivating, and the market will even out in a few months.

Increasing the number of licenses issued to producers may also help, but as Rosalie Wyonch, an analyst with C.D. Howe Institute, said that even that may not be enough to deal with the problem. She also noted that the Canadian government should adhere to its plan to reduce the country's black market marijuana trade, but ultimately, the solution remains with the supply.

"Licensed producers basically need to grow as much weed as possible," she said.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.