With cannabis still scarce in Alberta, pot shop owners are holding on

As cannabis shortages persist across the country, Alberta retailers are limiting store hours and some are giving up altogether on opening new ones.

'It's never enough to meet demand. We sell out every week,' shop owner says

Alberta pot shops are holding out for product supply to increase in the coming months. (Robert Short/CBC)

As cannabis shortages persist across the country, Alberta retailers are limiting store hours and some are giving up on opening new shops. 

Last month, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis said it would not issue any new cannabis retail licences because of the ongoing shortage. It also temporarily suspended new applications.

Twenty-eight applications have since been withdrawn, said AGLC spokeswoman Chara Goodings. All 28 were given a full refund for the licensing fees — about $4,100 each, she said.

As of Dec. 3, there are still 710 retail cannabis licences pending in Alberta.

AGLC has seen a "slight" improvement in product stock levels, Goodings said. But it will not grant new licences until that supply becomes more stable and consistent. 

Stores that are open are finding ways around product shortages.

Chris Felgate owns Small Town Buds in Devon and said he currently has about 15 different strains in stock. The store is only open two to four days a week, he said.

They can't get enough product, and when it arrives it sells out quickly.

"It's never enough to meet demand. We sell out every week," Felgate said. 

To try to extend the limited amounts of cannabis available to retailers, the AGLC introduced a manual ordering system in November. It was intended to ensure that stores receive product every week, but not necessarily the quantities or specific products they want.

"Some weeks are better, some weeks are worse," Felgate said. "We really don't know what the next week is going to look like until we see our order sheets." 

His store usually opens on Saturdays and remains open until everything sells out. The store has a text message system to alert customers when product is sold out or in stock. It's been tough for employees, he said, but he brings them in every week for a day of product knowledge training.

It's not the start he expected two months ago.

"We were thinking we were going to be open every single day," Felgate said.

"I kind of thought there were going to be shortages," he said. "I figured certain strains would sell out faster and it would be harder to get those in. I didn't realize there were going to be shortages of every single strain with every single LP [licensed producer]."

Canopy Growth is the only licensed producer that consistently seems to have product available, he said. 

Trevor Bamsey owns two Rocky Mountain Collective cannabis stores in Hinton. He, too, said Canopy has the biggest selection and the most consistency with its products.

He said his business is doing well, despite the overall shortages.

Bamsey credits a loyal customer base in town and travellers passing through on their way to Jasper.

Coming from the liquor industry, he said he also anticipated shortages from the beginning and ordered as much product as he could to start.

He has 50 strains in stock.

"I put all my eggs in my initial order," Bamsey said. "We had quite a bit of product right off the bat."

At Numo Cannabis in Edmonton, owner Daniel Nguyen said supply issues have affected his business. On Monday morning, he had about seven products in stock after a busy weekend but expected more product to arrive later in the day.

He said he hasn't shortened store hours and is not worried about the impact on his business down the road.

"We're not going to go down under just because of this," Nguyen said. 

"It's only getting better from here, it's not like it's getting worse. We're going to stay open and we're going to make this work."