Canada: Amid shortage, Alberta vainly scrambles nationwide to secure more cannabis supplies

A concerted provincial effort to end a supply shortage of cannabis has been frustrated by Canadians’ hunger for the drug, a spokesman for Alberta’s regulator said Wednesday.

And the head of one of Canada’s largest licensed producers of pot said those supply gaps could soon be closed, only to reappear again next year.

But a spokeswoman for Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) said the commission isn’t content to wait for that to happen and has sought more producers to supply what seems an insatiable demand.

“We’re actively searching for other producers, our merchandising team has reached out to every licensed producer in the country, whoever can fulfil what we need,” said Kaleigh Miller.

“They say, ‘we would love to help you but we don’t have the product.’ Every one of them has told us that.”

The AGLC currently has 15 licensed producers contracted to supply cannabis products, which are then sold on its online site or to private retailers.

At least one of those producers, Alberta-based Sundial, has said it won’t add to that supply until closer to the end of the year.

While the AGLC had approved 46 stores throughout Alberta as of Wednesday, not all of them are able to either open or sell cannabis due to shortages, said Miller.

“They know they may have a licence but nothing to order online, but hopefully in the near future things will begin to settle down,” she said.

That instability is being felt by the AGLC’s own retail online portal, where nearly 80 per cent of its marijuana varieties were sold out at one point on Wednesday, with similar numbers affecting its selection of pre-rolled joints.

Ontario-based cannabis giant Canopy Growth Inc. is working flat-out to meet that demand, having already supplied the Alberta market with 250,000 product units, with another 50,000 coming next week, said its CEO, Bruce Linton.

“The trucks continue to pull out of this place, it’s a busy road,” he said of the company’s flagship operation in Smiths Falls, Ont.

Consumers in Alberta could see a healthier supply by year’s end, he said, but that could be temporarily upended in the spring when potentially hundreds of retailers open their doors in Ontario.

“There’s going to be a new, unique channel that needs to be filled,” he said. “It’s going to go in layers, it’s going to continue to take some time.”

But he said demand for cannabis should be diluted by the availability of more edible oil capsules this year, and the introduction of vaped and cannabis beverage products in the second half of 2019.

For now, even though growers constantly have finished product in the hopper with phased production, it typically takes four to five months to produce mature buds, said Linton.

“It starts to be a complex algorithm,” he said.

Canopy continues to ramp up production, expecting to increase its growing space from four million to six million square feet over the next year, including a 90,000-square-foot production-warehouse facility in Edmonton, he said.

In the context of the entire country, he said, “Alberta’s been treated well by us and I suspect by others,” he said.

Concerns remain over supply gaps, said Karen Barry, who recently opened her Beltline Cannabis Calgary store at 806 12th Ave. S.W.

“It makes it commercially challenging when the supply chain ebbs and flows,” she said. “I’ve still been unable to obtain my pre-rolls.”

Though the cannabis production sector has had months — and in some cases years — to prepare, Canopy’s Linton said it’s much more difficult and time-consuming to ramp up to fully meet demand.

“It’s what 95 years of prohibition does to demand, and we found out pretty quick,” he said.

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