Legal cannabis shortage sparks B.C. retail concerns

The Canada-wide shortage of legal cannabis has prompted several provinces to restrict retail sales, but many entrepreneurs in B.C. remain keen to secure provincial retail licences, even at the risk of having empty shelves this spring.

Cannabis shortages prompted Quebec to reduce its weekly days of operation to four at its government-run stores, while Ontario has placed a limit of 25 on the number of private stores eligible to start operating in April. Alberta stopped issuing new licences for retail cannabis stores after its government-run distributor received only about 20% of the stock that it ordered from federally licensed producers.

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The legal cannabis shortage in B.C. has prompted the government’s BC Cannabis Stores consumer platform to include a “back in stock” section on its website to help consumers find recently restocked products.

Private retail entrepreneurs, however, have been lucky at getting stock so far.

Earth’s Own Naturals owner Laurie Weitzel told Business in Vancouver that her licensed private cannabis store in Kimberley has had no trouble getting most desired products from the only place where it can legally buy cannabis: the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB).

But she added that it has been challenging getting some cannabis oils via the BCLDB.

“We would love to see more supply from some of our favourite licensed producers, like Whistler [Medical Marijuana Corp.], because they are organic, and that is where we came from.”

With only six private cannabis stores and one government store licensed in B.C. as of January 4, some market watchers speculate that B.C.’s legal cannabis shortage is not as acute as in other parts of Canada because the province’s black market continues to thrive.

Dozens of illegal stores in operation in Vancouver and other parts of the province are feeding demand that would otherwise go through legal cannabis retail channels.

Cannabis industry expert Deepak Anand pointed to Health Canada statistics from December that showed that 4,504 kilograms of legal dried cannabis was sold in October after sales launched October 17.

Licensed producers, many of which are waiting for sales licences, had more than 21 times that amount sitting in inventory on December 18, according to Health Canada.

“There still is a shortage of product, in general,” Anand said, “but the faster Health Canada can license people to start to sell cannabis, the more product will be in the market.”

Althing Consulting principal Ian Dawkins said while on a panel in December, at the O’Cannabiz conference in Vancouver, that many entrepreneurs now in the black, or “grey,” market in Vancouver are “staring at the barrel of a gun because they are worried about opening their stores and having literally nothing on the shelves in April, May and June.”

He suggested that many might therefore prefer to stay outside the legal sales funnel.

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