Critics say cannabis delivery delays could push Ontario consumers to black market

Ontario Cannabis Store website pictured on a laptop in Kingston, ont., on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Lars Hagberg

TORONTO – The Ontario government is coming under fire for delays in the delivery of legal cannabis in the province, with critics suggesting consumers could revert back to the black market.

Just over a week after recreational marijuana became legal, the provincially run Ontario Cannabis Store website is warning consumers that delivery times for their orders may be longer than expected due to “extremely high demand” and labour action at Canada Post

Unionized Canada Post employees began rotating strikes this week and nearly 9,000 members walked off the job in the Toronto region on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Ontario Cannabis Store mum on backup delivery plan amid Canada Post strikes, wave of complaints

The Toronto-area members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers returned to work at midnight Thursday but the work stoppage at two facilities forced delays in shipments of tens of thousands of letters and parcels across the country.

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Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said earlier this week that the government had a backup plan to ensure timely deliveries of cannabis, but said Thursday that the plan would only be implemented in the case of a general strike. He again declined to give details of the plan.

“We’re continuing to use Canada Post throughout the rotating strikes and if they go to a general strike, we’ll go to Plan B. But we are encouraging the federal government to continue working with Canada Post to bring this to a resolution,” he said. “We won’t be discussing what our Plan B is.”

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Opposition parties, meanwhile, suggested the difficulties in accessing legal recreational cannabis could encourage some users to turn to illegal suppliers.

“People who aren’t getting their cannabis, they’re going to the black market,” said NDP legislator Kevin Yarde. “That’s what’s happening, and that’s something that we don’t want to happen.”

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Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said some of his constituents have complained about the delivery delays.

“People … are going back to dispensaries and the government’s going to have to deliver on the commitment to make sure that it’s available and accessible to people if they’re going to be successful in combating the illegal market,” he said.

READ MORE: Here are 3 other mailing service options during the Canada Post strike

Fraser suggested the government’s reluctance to lay out its contingency plan means “they don’t have one.”

The online Ontario Cannabis Store is currently the only legal retailer of weed in the province. Private retail brick-and-mortar stores are set to open in April next year.

Some residents expressed frustration at the delays, saying consumers have no other legal means of purchasing cannabis while they await their orders.

Maureen Muscott said her 29-year-old daughter uses cannabis to treat her epilepsy and borderline personality disorder, but does not have a prescription that would allow her to purchase from medical providers.

READ MORE: Ontario Cannabis Store says it had 100,000 online sales in first 24 hours of legalization

Muscott said her daughter placed an order for more than $100 of cannabis on Oct. 18, the day after legalization, and has not yet received her order, nor has she been able to reach customer service at the Ontario Cannabis Store. As a result, her daughter has experienced serious panic attacks, the Toronto woman said.

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“The receipt said it would be received in three to five days and now they’re using the excuse of the postal strike as to why they’re not getting it,” Muscott said. “I think it was just very badly planned and I think they did not expect to be as inundated (with orders) as they were.”

Fedeli said the Ontario Cannabis Store fielded more online orders in its first 24 hours than all the other provinces put together and would be continuing to fulfil those orders.

Toronto police said Monday that 11 unlicensed marijuana dispensaries had been shut down in the city since recreational cannabis became legal.

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