On the night of Oct. 16, 2018, vapor lounge proprietor Jon Liedtke stayed up past midnight to participate in the historic moment when buying recreational cannabis became legal in Canada. As a resident of Ontario, his purchase options were limited to making an order at a government-run e-store, the simply named Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS).
“I put my order in at 12:17 a.m.,” he told Marijuana.com on the telephone from Windsor, Ontario, where he owns the Higher Limits Cannabis Lounge, a 6,000-square-foot consumption lounge for medical marijuana users. He quickly received confirmation. His order was roughly number 6,700 of more than 100,000 orders the OCS received in the first 24 hours of sales, leading Liedtke, 30, to believe he’d avoid the forecasted supply shortage and that his earlier order would earn priority treatment.
“I was very eager to receive it and wish I had,” Liedtke said. “I wanted to be part of the first cohort of people purchasing cannabis legally in the country.”
As of Nov. 2, 2018, he was still waiting for shipping confirmation. Three days later, Liedtke missed the delivery attempt that arrived without warning. “So tomorrow, I have to try to go pick it up,” he said.
Liedtke is among an increasingly dismayed group of Ontarians who have complained to the province’s ombudsman.
The first two weeks of legal marijuana deliveries in Canada have been challenging, but the program’s rollout has been more frustrating for consumers in some regions than others. On top of shortages and and a nationwide postal service strike, Canadians had to navigate each province’s or territory’s individual distribution plan. On the west coast in British Columbia, where federally illegal dispensaries have thrived without much of a challenge from local authorities for years, more than 1,000 online orders were recorded at the new legal government store in the first hour; there were 9,137 in the first 24 hours.
In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, there were 12,000 orders in the first hour of sales and more than 100,000 in the first 24 hours. Ontario’s 14 million people won’t have licensed retail storefronts until spring 2019, so for now the only legal option is the beleaguered OCS. Vic Fedeli, Ontario’s minister of finance, said during a press conference, that the competing unregulated market had misreported its earnings, making it difficult to project numbers of legal market consumers, according to a report from CityNews Toronto.
“All of the cannabis store assumptions were made … based on illegal data, illegal information from illegal sales,” he said. “And guess what? The criminals lied to us. They did not properly report their sales, if you can imagine that happening.”
The supply shortages at Quebec’s 12 government-operated storefronts have caused them to limit operating hours to just three days a week. Quebec received more than 30,000 online orders in the first 24 hours and 12,500 in-person purchases. On Canada’s east coast, in Nova Scotia’s government-run program that has been plagued by low inventory, there were 12,810 in the same time period. There, government store representatives warned consumers in advance of legalization that just 40 percent of the anticipated inventory would be in stock.
Prices also varied among provinces and territories, with preroll products, still a novelty for occasional consumers, exceeding $15 Canadian dollars, or $11.44 U.S. dollars, per gram in British Columbia and Ontario, according to analysis by data research company Headset. Flower prices were between an average of $8 a gram in Newfoundland and Labrador to $12 a gram in Alberta, or a range of $6.10 to $9.15 U.S. dollars as of the Nov. 5, 2018, exchange rate.
Liedtke said he’s called the premier’s office twice to complain.
When Liedtke phoned customer service at the OCS to ask why his nearly $360 purchase of legal cannabis hadn’t appeared on his statement, he was unable to determine the status of his order because the customer service phone line was shut off.
However, Liedtke had another plan to get his hands on a souvenir of the post-prohibition era: he’d previously booked a business trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he hoped to swing by a licensed dispensary to buy some flower.
He successfully completed his mission, and was even able to sample the goods before packing it up again.
“I was able to bring back the leftovers that I had, but I’m going to put that on my shelf. I’m not going to smoke it,” he said. “I want that little piece of history.”