When cannabis supply at Small Town Buds begins to dwindle, co-owner Chris Felgate shuts the doors of his Devon, Alta., shop and turns customers away.
Even though the legal retailer often still has oils and capsules in stock, most shoppers are looking for the store’s namesake product, he said.
“Having our doors open with no flower available was making customers more angry… It’s like going into a grocery store and not having groceries,” he said.
Since he first opened his doors on Oct. 17, the closures became a near-weekly ritual as demand outstripped the supply he was able to procure from the provincial government distributor, he said.
The situation began improving in March, however, after the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis agency added additional suppliers, and he has kept his doors open consistently since. But the weekly supply he receives still lacks in selection and quantity, Felgate said.
“We’re lucky if we’re getting one or two cases of strains… We purchase everything that is available to us, whether we like the product or not.”
It has been six months since Canada became the first industrialized country to legalize recreational cannabis, in a bid to stamp out the illicit market. On that landmark day, high demand resulted in lineups at the few bricks-and-mortar stores that were ready, delivery delays and stock outs.
Licensed producers ramped up production in anticipation of Oct. 17, but product was scant and many companies pointed to supply chain issues as a major cause of the bottleneck.
And on this 4-20, the first annual celebration of cannabis culture post-legalization, many pot enthusiasts are still smoking joints they did not buy through legal channels.
The vast majority of cannabis, or 79 per cent, was bought illegally in the fourth quarter, according to Statistics Canada, down from 90 per cent in the third quarter.
Legal sales of dried flower across Canada in February were down 8.8 per cent from January, partially due to a shorter month, but average daily sales of dried cannabis in February remained relatively flat, up one per cent from the previous month.
Meanwhile, inventory of dried cannabis products which are finished — meaning packaged, labelled and ready for sale — at cannabis companies rose by more than 19 per cent to 12,110 kilograms in February. The amount of unfinished dried cannabis held by licensed producers increased to 120,731 kilograms, up 4.1 per cent from January.
“Health Canada is aware of reports of localized shortages of cannabis products in some markets and for some product lines,” said Tammy Jarbeau, a spokeswoman for the government agency. “The supply of cannabis is not the issue. The issue is the supply chain, in other words, converting raw product into packaged goods and moving it to distributors or retailers and to customers.”
Based on industry figures, there is enough cultivation space to produce approximately one million kilograms of pot per year, she added.
Allan Rewak, the executive director of the Cannabis Council of Canada, said much of that unfinished inventory is product unsuitable for sale to consumers. As well, licensed producers face various regulatory hurdles such as obtaining necessary licenses for processing product that does meet the bar, he said.
“It’s a multistage process. If it was simple as put plants in the ground and they’ll grow, you would have seen the situation fully resolved by now,” he said. “But this is a complex system by design.”