Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s decision to make the Ontario Cannabis Store‘s online platform the only legal option for buying pot in the province has likely contributed to what one industry official acknowledged has been a “rocky” rollout combined with “shocking” consumer demand.
“If you look at how much changed with the election of Doug Ford, that can give you some key indications of why the e-commerce rollout has been rocky in Ontario,” said Jordan Sinclair, vice president of communications at Canopy Growth Corp., which is one of the major cannabis producers in Canada.
“Simply put, there is only one outlet where consumers can go. If there were 40 stores, then the demand could have been spread across a number of areas and things would have been a lot more smooth. When I think about it, I would say it’s short term pain for long term gain.”
Recreational marijuana became legal on Oct. 17 and the Ontario Cannabis Store has said it received more than 150,000 orders in the first week of legalization.
But thousands of consumers have complained online about delays in delivery, lack of information about their orders and a lack of communication from the Ontario Cannabis Store about how they are coping with a Canada Post strike.
Global News also confirmed earlier this week that dozens of complaints have been filed with the Ontario Ombudsman about the handling of the rollout.
WATCH BELOW: Ontario to allow private stores to sell pot starting in October
Under the former provincial Liberals, the plan had been to let only government-run outlets sell recreational marijuana.
But in August, Ford changed up the plans for how cannabis would be sold in the province.
Ford’s new plan is to open up the market to private retailers — but starting only in April 2019.
“The system as it will exist in April when private retailers are allowed to be included in Ontario, will easily be worth the initial delays that people are experiencing now,” said Sinclair.
“It’s not good in the short term but in the long term, I think what people are going to get is a better customer experience, they’re going to get a variety of shops that’s going to allow for a greater variety of product that’s available. So I think in the long term, those are good things.”
Until then, the Ontario Cannabis Store’s online shop is the province’s only legal retailer.
However, the store quickly began selling out and despite promising to ship orders within one to three days, has so far left thousands of consumers still waiting for their orders two weeks later as it grapples with the strength of consumer demand.
“That is a shocking number. That is an incredibly high number,” said Sinclair of the 150,000 orders placed in Ontario in the first week of legalization.
“It’s heartening to be able to see that there is that much demand in the market and it means that this is an industry that’s got a great future ahead of it.”
WATCH BELOW: Names of Ontario Cannabis Store marijuana products raise concern
He said that demand has had Canopy Growth sending out shipments to resupply retailers across the country every day so far.
He also acknowledged the scope of public demand took the industry by surprise.
“That initial demand, that 150,000 orders, is something we didn’t quite anticipate. It’s exciting but I think we will be able to catch up with it pretty shortly,” he said.
And while switching to a single legal venue shortly before legalization may be behind the challenges consumers are now seeing, he said he was not critical of the change itself and said it will lead to a better system for consumers.
“What is there to criticize?” Sinclair said. “From our perspective, they’ve rolled out something that makes a lot more sense. We’re going to have access to a private retail model. That’s incredibly exciting for us. We’ve spent the last eight months talking about how excited we would be if we were allowed to sell cannabis from our production sites and now we’re going to be able to do that.”
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair made similar remarks on Tuesday when asked about the shortages and delivery delays in Ontario.
He described the challenges as “growing pains.”
“I know that some of the provinces have experienced some initial growing pains and I have every confidence they’ll work it out,” he said when asked about the situation in Ontario, adding that the “environment in Ontario is complex.”
“I’m sure they’ll learn from their experience and learn from the experience of others,” he said.
“It shouldn’t take us very long to catch up and I think in a handful of months, we’ll be able to look back on this and say it was a start and we were able to get better every week and now things are functioning pretty smoothly.”