British Columbia

Will Canada's marijuana supply be ready for legalization?

People involved in Canada's unregulated cannabis industry say, unless something changes quickly, the supply of available pot come legalization next July will be inadequate, and the black market with continue to thrive.

Members of the unregulated pot industry say licensed medical growers will come up short

Concerns are being raised over the ability of Canada's licensed medical marijuana producers to supply enough cannabis for a legal recreational market. (Julie Gordon/Reuters)

Some people involved in Canada's unregulated cannabis industry say, unless something changes quickly, the supply of available pot come legalization next July, will be inadequate, and the black market will continue to thrive.

In British Columbia, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced Monday the public would be consulted on some of the upcoming rules around marijuana in the province, including distribution, age and possession limits. But Farnworth noted the issue of supply, though critical to ending the black market, is in the hands of the federal government.

According to longtime activist and dispensary director Dana Larsen, the amount of quality marijuana available from licensed suppliers is far too low to meet current demands, not to mention the demands of a legal recreational market.

"The legally licensed producers, there's not enough of them. They're not growing enough cannabis. They're not allowed to produce half the products we sell in our dispensary, so they're inadequate to meet the demand that's out there," said Larsen, whose two dispensaries face routine fines and legal threats from the City of Vancouver.

"We purchase from the craft market or the black market or whatever you want to call it," he said.

Dozens of licences issued

There are now 59 federal licenses for growing medical marijuana in Canada, five of which belong to companies with two sites. Many of the growers aren't currently authorized to sell cannabis.

Ian Dawkins, president of the Cannabis Commerce Association of Canada, a trade association representing about 100 small and medium growers in the so-called "craft market," says the licensed growers are only supplying about five per cent of the current market — including the medical and black markets.

"If they're going to block the existing craft producers from getting licensed, where is this cannabis going to come from? The licensed producers are not equipped to increase their capacity that much, it's simply not feasible," said Dawkins.

According to Dawkins, if pot legalization rolls smaller producers into the system and relies on a Vancouver-style independent dispensary retail system, there shouldn't be any major issues on July 1, 2018.

'This is not a joke'

"You could, with very few additions, make everything quite safe and put it well in line with international norms from places like Colorado and California," he said. "If you're talking about what Ontario's proposing, there's not a chance [the provinces will] be prepared on day one."

"Cannabis is the third largest sector of our GDP by size. This is not a joke. If we screw this up, if Ontario screws this up, if the feds screw this up, [British Columbia] is hooped," said Dawkins. "This is not a small thing to get wrong. This is a massive part of our economy, whether you like it or not."

Larsen agrees that, unless the new pot regime includes the current retailers and producers, it's going to be a very bumpy start next summer.

"Oh, I predict on July 2 and for several years to come, there'll be chaos and confusion and raids and court cases and dispensaries still struggling to continue serving people," he said.

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