It’s only been five days since Canada’s legal marijuana law went into effect, but licensed retailers across the country have already burned through a majority of their supply, and it’s not clear when the shortage will be resolved. According to Vice, hiccups in the implementation of the law were apparent from the first day, with many store owners complaining that they didn’t receive their full order from the producer, so they started off with lower stock than they planned. Demand was also still somehow higher than anticipated, and several stores had to close up shop once they ran out of product.
Hundreds of customers stood in-line for hours, all day and into the night, in cities like Montreal, only to find a limited selection of marijuana products inside, if they were lucky. At one store, customers in line were suddenly told they would no longer be accepting credit or debit cards for payment.
“There was a lineup of more than 50 people trying to get to the bank machine,” one particularly disgruntled customer, John Matheson, told the Montreal Gazette. “Finally I just left in disgust.”
The following morning, he had better luck and was among the first group of customers let inside the store, but the demand the previous day had tapped much of the supply; the two products Matheson had hoped to buy — Pink Kush in dried flower form, and an oral spray — were both sold out.
“To me, this a complete failure of the management of this cannabis [agency],” Matheson told the Montreal Gazette. “They’ve known for some time that there was going to be some demand for this and to run out after one day in business is a complete sign of incompetence.”
Quebec’s marijuana industry is operated entirely by the government-run Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC), which reported more than 12,500 in-person and 30,000 online transactions on October 17th, the first day of legalization. SQDC spokesperson Mathieu Gaudreault said the agency would be monitoring the numbers in the days to come, in order to ascertain whether the heavier-than-expected demand is legit and sustaining, and not just “a curiosity factor.”
With only a limited number of dispensaries opening the first week, the majority of customers across the country tried to procure their legal pot online, according to the CBC, only to be slowed down by server timeouts and busy errors. In the northernmost province of Nunavut, the website for the only licensed cannabis retailer, Tweed, kept crashing throughout the first day of sales. Some were disappointed to discover that by the time they were able to access the private or government-run online retailer, various brands and sizes were no longer available.
According to the CBC, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, which operates the six licensed retailers across the province, warned of “substantially less cannabis than originally requested,” and reported that shortages for some products could last months. One store in Winnipeg sold out in just a few hours on its first morning, with transactions totalling over $50,000.
The shortage isn’t a complete surprise — when retailers began pre-ordering their initial supply from producers in September, in many cases, they found that only a portion of the products advertised were actually available. And at least one study released earlier this month predicted a shortage at the onset of legalization. Cannabis industry researchers at the University of Waterloo and the C.D. Howe Institute found that licensed producers would only be able to supply 30 to 60 percent of the demand in the first year of legalization.
“There will not be enough legal supply, especially during the first half of the year following legalization, primarily because of the slow rate of licensing producers,” the researchers wrote in the report, according to the Financial Times.
Matheson told the Montreal Gazette that cannabis agencies across the country, including SQDC, might have been better prepared to meet the demand if they had conducted a proper survey of the market.
“Perhaps then they would have said ‘Maybe we should be buying it by the truckload rather than the palette load,’” he said. “They could have known this a long time ago. For me the score is: black market one, government zero.”