Postal strikes and lying criminals: why Ontario residents aren’t getting their legal weed on time

Tired of waiting for your weed to arrive from the Ontario government’s online store? You’re not alone.

Three weeks after Canada legalized recreational marijuana, the country’s largest province is still struggling to fill orders and deliver them. The Ontario Cannabis Store has been flooded with complaints about slow delivery and poor customer service.

The problems might drive customers back to the illegal market — and it might be hard to win them back, warn some cannabis experts.

Others say a few kinks are to be expected as the province establishes the country’s largest legal pot retailer.

The Ontario Cannabis Store says it has hired more staff to answer the jammed phone lines and respond to emails. Officials promise they are working to improve the operation of the distribution facility.

Be patient, they plead.

Many questions remain, though. The Ontario Cannabis Store declined to say how many staff it employs now and how many it has added, how it predicts how much cannabis is needed; and who’s running the distribution facility.

Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli added a layer of mystery to the saga with his suggestion that lying criminals can take the blame because they gave the government bad advice on how many Ontarians would buy pot.

Here’s what is known:

It’s not a problem with supply

Elsewhere in Canada, some stores and online portals run by both government agencies and private businesses have reported shortages of cannabis. Quebec’s government stores have closed from Monday to Wednesday because there isn’t enough stock. Some stores in western provinces closed temporarily or have limited supply.

The Ontario Cannabis Store has had a steady if limited stock. Eventually the store plans to sell about 150 strains of cannabis.

“OCS has adequate product supply to fulfil orders and continues to receive new supply on a regular basis from our licensed producers and to make that available on OCS.ca,” said the store in a statement.

On the other hand, perhaps the supply is adequate because processing the orders and delivering them have been problematic.

“I think there would be a shortage of supply if they were actually fulfilling orders,” said Deepak Anand, a vice-president at Cannabis Compliance Inc., a firm that advises the industry. Anand keeps a close watch on how legalization is unfolding in all the provinces.

“It seems to be very much an order fulfilment issue. The call centre has been bombarded. We’ve heard stories of people being hung up on and not taking calls. It seems to be a very operational issue, unlike we are seeing in the rest of the country, which is a stock issue.

“I don’t know if it’s staffing or just not enough thought being paid to the operational process and order fulfilment, that’s where the big breakdown seems to be.”

Postal strikes threw a wrench into the works

The Ontario Cannabis Store says rotating strikes by postal workers have caused complications and resulted in longer-than-expected delivery times for some  More than 9,000 Canada Post workers were off the job in the Greater Toronto Area in the first week of legalization and the backlog at Canada Post “continues to pile up,” says the OCS.

Faulty labels

Some of the Health-Canada licensed cannabis growers mislabelled some products, says OCS. “Unfortunately this delayed our ability to ship those items to consumers.”

Logjams at the secret distribution facility

The cannabis is packed and shipped from a warehouse at a secret location in the Toronto area.

The location is secret for security reasons.

OCS says it has taken steps to “add additional capacity” to the processing facility and to make “efficiencies.” What has been done and how will it help the backlog? No answer was provided to that question.

The OCS has declined to name the private company that operates the facility.

Toronto cannabis lawyer Matt Maurer says it’s difficult to assess the problem. “We don’t really know because they won’t say how many people are working there and who is running the warehouse … at a higher level, part of this could have been avoided if they had a reasonable amount of people working there.”

How did the government predict how many people in Ontario would buy pot?

The Ontario Cannabis Store says it received more than 150,000 orders in the first week of legalization. Store officials called the demand “unbelievably high,” “remarkable” and “unprecedented.”

It’s certainly unprecedented, since cannabis had been illegal for the past century.

But unbelievable? That depends on how many people the Ontario government store assumed would want to buy pot. That is not known. The OCS says it doesn’t share “market forecast methodology.”

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli suggested research was conducted by surveying criminals who now dominate the billion-dollar black market.

“All of the cannabis store assumptions were made … based on illegal data, illegal information from illegal sales …” Fedeli told reporters at Queen’s Park, according to citynews.  “And guess what? The criminals lied to us. They did not properly report their sales, if you can imagine that happening, so our assumptions of course were based on all illegal sales.”

His office did not respond to a request to clarify which criminals were consulted.

There have been numerous studies conducted to estimate demand, though.

One commissioned by Health Canada found that 18.8 per cent of Ontario residents over age 18 said they used cannabis in 2017.

Since the population of Ontario is about 14.2 million, that represents 2.7 million potential customers. No one would expect every single one of them to shop at the Ontario Cannabis Store.

But 150,000 orders represents only a tiny fraction — 5.6 per cent — of that estimate of how many people in Ontario use cannabis.

“Most people in the industry could have told them the demand is going to be exceptionally high,” said Maurer. “To start you should have a lot of (staff) lined up ready to go.”

Maurer said the store appears to be set up to fail because “the powers that be didn’t assign the proper number of people.”

It’s difficult for any company to recover from bad customer service, he said.

If the government didn’t have a monopoly on cannabis sales, people wouldn’t tolerate it.

“If any other business operated that way people would say, ‘Forget it. I’m never going to order from this  person again.’

“The government might just have lost a whole bunch of customers because of this debacle.”

“How long will people’s memories be, and can they fix these things?”

jmiller@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JacquieAMiller

 

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