Just one day after marijuana became legal across in Canada, supplies were running extremely low across the country, with many retailers completely out of stock in both brick-and-mortar stores and online. A week later, Canadians still aren’t sure when supplies will be replenished. Stores stocked up as much as they could in preparation for the big day, however, in many places there just wasn’t enough cannabis to meet demand.
One store in the community of Portugal Cove-St Philip's ran out at a very odd time.
"It's very bad news in my eyes. I ran out at 4:20 today, believe it or not," Thomas Clarke of THC Distribution told the CBC. He had predicted his stock would be good until that Friday, but his supplier was only able to fulfill 10,000 Canadian dollars worth of his CA$70,000 order.
"I'm a little shocked that I sold out so fast, and also very upset that I don't have product for everybody. I'm letting down a lot of people here and I was assured that if I paid for the cannabis I would receive it."
Ditching the dealer. Pot users say they are willing to buy legal cannabis from stores - but only if there's enough supply. @PeterCBC reports from St. John's - where the first legal sales were made. @cbchh #CBCNN pic.twitter.com/VGB9iKkWu8
— CBC Morning Live (@CBCMorningLive) October 17, 2018
Cannabis shortages worse than predicted
Canada is selling its cannabis in a mix of private and government-run shops, many of which predicted shortages ahead of time, although nobody had any real idea how severe. Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries said there would be "substantially less cannabis than originally requested.”
On October 3, weeks before cannabis became legal, the CBC reported that industry analysts and economists were predicting shortages in the first year. The news outlet proclaimed in its headline, “Don’t delete your dealer’s number yet.”
Store owners played a balancing act in the leadup to legalization, not wanting to be short on the most popular products but also facing an unknown market that could easily leave them with a glut of supply if they overestimated the market. Plus, marijuana plants can’t grow any faster.
Factors like price, quality, and variety all affect how cannabis legalization will work out in the long term. One customer told the CBC that supply shortage issues could turn consumers off the legal market entirely.
"These guys are running out of a lot of stuff here already and if that happens, people are going to go back — the dealers are never going to do away if you can't supply," he said.
Black market cannabis still illegal in Canada
Whether or not Canadians realize it, calling up a black-market dealer could still place someone in as much trouble now as it did before cannabis was legal.
"Illegal production and distribution remain serious criminal offences, but today for the first time there's competition in the marketplace," said Border Security Minister Bill Blair. "For the first time, adult Canadians who choose to consume cannabis have a safer, lower risk, healthier and more socially responsible choice."
Still, the illicit cannabis trade will thrive as shortages continue, an unintended consequence of the free market. If the local pot shop’s out of stock, then consumers don’t really have a choice. And it’s fair to mention that Canada isn’t short on weed so much as it’s short on legal weed, with the country’s black market standing ready to pick up the slack.
That’s exactly how Rosalie Wyonch of the C.D. Howe Institute, a public policy think-tank, put it when she told the CBC, "As a country, we don't have a shortage of marijuana; we have a shortage of legal marijuana."