Bill Blair’s tweet about Canada’s cannabis supply problem isn’t fooling anyone

Canada's weed minister says there isn't a shortage, but the Twitter-sphere isn't buying it

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On Tuesday (January 16), the federal government’s point man on cannabis tweeted something that raised a few eyebrows across the internet.

The former undercover narcotics officer and Toronto police chief took to social media to share a new Health Canada report, writing: “The Federally regulated supply inventories are showing impressive growth since implementation and clearly supply is adequate to demand. Hopefully Ontario can resolve their difficulties in accessing the available inventories.”

While the report does in fact show a spike in sales, the data collected does little to accurately reflect a true depiction of the nation-wide demand for cannabis. And Blair is getting called out for it.

Along with “keeping cannabis away from children”, as noted in a mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, it’s Blair’s responsibility to conduct studies and tests relating to the authorized sale and distribution of cannabis.

The report shows the first wave of data from the federal government’s national Cannabis Tracking System—a web-based inventory and sales database both provincial authorities and federally licensed cultivators are required to update monthly.

The numbers show an increase in total sales of federally-approved cannabis from October to November of 2018. While a 22 percent spike in dried flower sales seems like “impressive growth”, as Blair put it, many argue the data doesn't reflect a true depiction of Canada's rollout of legal weed. 

On paper, an increase in demand isn’t entirely shocking as legalization brought forth a surge of new consumers interested in trying cannabis now that it doesn't come with a fine or jail sentence. It also makes sense that the government’s supply inventory is on the rise, reflecting an increase in the number of cultivators that have obtained licences to sell cannabis since October. 

The problem, as pointed out by several industry commentators, is that the reported inventory dramatically trumps the inventory actually available to the public.

Where once Canada's massive consumer base was satiated by a patchwork of producers, growers, and dispensaries operating at in a spectrum of legality, now only those who have a Health Canada stamp of approval are allowed to fuel the market. And there aren't nearly enough with licences yet to keep up.

There is a major bottleneck at the retail level, with provincial and municipal authorities failing to implement satisfactory licensing models in time to withstand the consumer demand. Stores can’t open their doors fast enough, LPs are falling short on promised supply agreements, and consumers are unhappy with the quality of the weed that is available.

The comment particularly stung for cannabis consumers and businesses in places like Quebec and Ontario who have been struggling with shortages of federally approved cannabis since it was legalized last year. In some regions, like Labrador, dispensaries have been forced to close and lay off staff due to a lack of inventory. On top of that, the web of dispensaries that once operated under the old licensing regime (or in certain regions, lack thereof) are now forced to halt operations in order to attempt the transition.

Blair's statement also fails to acknowledge external impacts that have limited product availability. The recent strike of the country’s primary postal operator, Canada Post, for example, delayed and prevented a number of online orders in the months following the legislative shifts.

While Blair singles out Ontario, saying he hopes the province can soon resolve issues around “accessing available inventories”, many attribute the distribution hiccups to the federal government dragging its feet to license cannabis producers—particularly micro and craft cultivators.

A handful of commentators also pointed out that not only is the information an inaccurate representation of the consumer experience across the country, but it also ignores some of the other issues plaguing the legal market.

In one response, cannabis genetics researcher Ryan Lee points to a lack of chemovar diversity as an example of one of the many problems.

Blair has been the face of the government’s efforts to legalize cannabis for years. Most recently, a privy council order officially delegated oversight of the Cannabis Act to the minister of border security and organized crime reduction—a freshly minted ministerial position he christened in July of 2018.

Despite being one of the country's lead authorities on the matter, this isn't the first time Blair has appeared somewhat unaware of the realities facing cannabis consumers. Last September, Blair told a CBC reporter that he didn't expect a rise in issues at the border following legalization, instead told Canadians as long as they didn't show up to crossing looking like Cheech and Chong they probably wouldn't get pulled aside for a secondary inspection.

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