Cannabis is legal in Canada, but good luck finding any to buy. Supply shortages are rampant from coast to coast, with stores closing due to lack of inventory in regions like New Brunswick, while Quebec has reduced the operating hours of their provincially-owned stores because they simply don't have enough product to sell.
While customers might be shocked to see dispensaries temporarily shuttered so soon, the country's licensed growers aren't surprised, according to Terry Booth, CEO of Aurora Cannabis. Booth says that he and the other heads of Canada's cannabis producers saw this problem coming.
"It's a shit show, and we knew it'd be a shit show," Booth said yesterday at a discussion panel held at the 2018 MJBizCon in Las Vegas.
And by "we," Booth means his colleagues as well as the federal government.
"They saw this coming for sure, but they don't care," he told Civilized in a follow-up interview, where he explained that federal policymakers were focused on getting the new law in place first, then fixing it down the road. "You get it in place, and things fix themselves over time. And if they don't, then it's a bad policy, and you have to change the policy."
'I'm surprised we were able to do it as good as we did'
For Booth, the supply problem really boils down to one thing: "Timeframe," he told Civilized. "The federal government didn't get the [cannabis bill] out early enough so the provinces could set their regulations. They didn't have it until about three months [before legalization took effect in October]."
Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his plan to legalize cannabis back in 2015, the government decided to slow down the process by assembling a task force to compile recommendations for what became The Cannabis Act. That bill had to pass through the House of Commons twice before the Senate approved it last June, giving each province and territory just under four months to establish regulations for a massive new retail market.
So considering those challenges, Booth thinks the provinces are doing pretty much as well as can be expected.
"They did what they could do. It is a new, nascent industry. The feds are always slow. The government, unfortunately, in most countries moves a little slower than we'd like. And they tried to do it within an election period - that four years. The government had to do it very, very fast because they didn't want to run into an election when this still wasn't done. So, like I said, things get fixed once you open that door. If you didn't open that door, you wouldn't know what the problems were."
And as tough as things have been for producers like Aurora, Booth says he'd rather tackle those problems now than stand on the sidelines while other businesses sort out the mess.
"I'd rather be the guy who breaks through the door and figures out what the problems are instead of the guy that follows through the door. And that's really what Aurora did. One week into this, I thought, 'We did a shitty job.' But then I looked around, and I felt so proud of the team for executing because I think we did one of the better jobs."
And he was equally complimentary of the provinces as well as the feds for getting a difficult task done in short order.
"You have to give them a hats off....I've been in the regulatory business for many years, and I'm surprised that we were able to do it as good as we did, but we knew it was going to be a bit of a shit show."
'Are you asking me which province shat the bed the most?'
Booth was equally blunt during the panel when the moderator wondered which province has struggled the most with implementing legalization.
"Do you mean who shat the best the worst?" he asked for clarification. "Ontario," he added. "But then again, they had a fundamental shift in how they're going to deliver cannabis. And I think they'll have a very good retail market in the end, so I don't want to knock any of the provinces."
That "fundamental shift" involved the incoming government of Premier Doug Ford deciding to scrap the system of provincially-owned stores designed by the outgoing administration.
"So a new government came in and said, 'We're not gonna do that, fuck it. So let's wait until April and have private retail. Until then, we don't give a shit. Let the feds take the heat,'" Booth explained. "That's really what's happening, and that's really unfortunate."
'The House of Commons would be a great place to grow some pot'
In the meantime, if the federal government wants to combat the supply shortage, they should set aside their rubber stamps and start gardening on Parliament Hill.
"They could start growing some weed," Booth jokingly suggested. "The House of Commons in Ottawa would be a great place to grow some pot. But it's not really about supply so much as it's about logistics in some places. We know there's cannabis out there, but the way to get it onto the shelves is difficult."
That challenge is impacting some customers worse than others because the supply shortage has struck the market for medical as well as the recreational cannabis. Since the same licensed producers supply both sets of consumers, the shortage means some patients have not been able to get their medicine. For Booth, the idea of prioritizing the recreational market at the expense of your patients is unconscionable.
"Why would you ever do that? We're a medical cannabis company. Yes, adult usage is cool, and it's going to bring some immediate cash flow, but it's only 33 million people. This is a global medical cannabis system. It's a global and noble effort, and if you're not going to be noble in that effort, then get the fuck out of the industry."
Edibles will be 'another shit show'
Optimists might think the situation in Canada will improve in the coming weeks, but Booth predicts that things will likely get much messier before the new industry sorts itself out - especially since cannabis-infused foods and drinks will be hitting the market within the next year.
"We've got edibles in front of us yet," Booth noted. "How's that going to go? We'll know by December, and they say it'll be available by June. Well, how hard is it to fucking fire up a bakery for 33 million people in six months when we don't know the regs? It's going to be another shit show, but we'll handle it."