Kitchener-Waterloo

Bill Blair refutes Ontario government's claim there's not enough pot to go around

Ontario says it can't issue more than 50 new private cannabis store licences because there's not enough national supply, but Bill Blair, the federal minister of border security and organized crime reduction, says the province is just making excuses.

Ontario 'made excuses,' rest of Canada 'made progress': minister of border security, organized crime reduction

The Ontario government is wrong when it says there are still problems with the national supply of cannabis, says Bill Blair, minister of border security and organized crime reduction. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Canada's minister of border security and organized crime reduction accused the Ontario government of making excuses after it once again blamed marijuana supply issues for limiting the number of marijuana retail stores.

"With the notable exception of Ontario, the rest of the country has made steady progress in displacing the illicit market with licensed and regulated retail stores," Bill Blair said in a statement Wednesday. "While the rest of the country made progress, the Ford government made excuses."

Blair said there is enough cannabis for people who want it in Canada.

He was responding to criticisms the province levelled Wednesday when it announced it will issue up to 50 new private cannabis store licences.

Eight of those 50 will not be part of the lottery, but instead will go to First Nations communities on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Attorney General Doug Downey said the province couldn't issue more because there are problems with the supply of cannabis coming from Health Canada.

"While the federal supply issues persist, we cannot in good conscience issue an unlimited number of licenses to businesses. A phased-in approach remains necessary," Downey said.

Finance Minister Rod Phillips also said in the same release that "marginal improvements in national supply" are why the province is able to allow more stores to open.

But in a statement to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo, Blair said, "The data is clear: there remains enough supply to meet and exceed combined retail sales.

"After months of blaming an inept approach on a non-existent supply shortage, the Ontario government finally issued a limited number of licences using a lottery scheme in April," Blair added. 

"It appears that they have finally resolved their issues of mismanagement and are prepared to move forward. We wish them every success."

A worker examines cannabis products at the Ontario Cannabis Store distribution centre. The province has said it can't issue more than 50 private cannabis store licences right now because there's not enough national supply from Health Canada, a statement refuted by Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Industry 'catching up' to demand

A Health Canada spokesperson said in an email more than 300 stores are licensed across the country, and as of June 1, the health agency had approved 135 new licensed producers and 280 expansion requests. 

As of June 28, a total of 186 sites have been federally license to cultivate, produce and/or sell cannabis.

Health Canada also reported on supply and demand of cannabis on its website.

The latest numbers are from the end of April, and it notes that at that time, 31,880 kilograms of finished dried cannabis products and almost 72,246 litres of finished cannabis oil products were in inventory.

Jay Rosenthal is co-founder and president of Business of Cannabis, which reports on the pot industry. He also questions whether there's a huge shortage.

"The industry's catching up with the supply that consumers demand at this point now," he said.

Rosenthal said it's also a short-term problem because in December, when edibles hit the shelves, it will "even out the supply" for dried flower and oil.

"People will be gravitating, at least from past experience in other markets, to other products, be they vape pens, or edibles or beverages," he said. "Consumers will have more choice, but it will also less demand on the products that are on the shelves right now."

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