High prices, poor selection plague New Brunswick cannabis consumers
Province well behind its Atlantic neighbours in per-person sales
Cannabis NB is still charging customers some of the highest prices in the region for legalized pot, despite posting the worst sales figures in Atlantic Canada, but the agency insists sticker shock is not at fault for its problems.
"Price point is not the driver of sales shortages — lack of supply is," Cannabis NB spokesperson Marie-Andrée Bolduc said in a statement emailed to CBC News in response to questions about its struggles.
Last week, Cannabis NB reported sales over its first 166 days — Oct. 17 to March 31 — totalled $18.6 million. That is 58 per cent below what the agency projected for itself last fall and is substantially worse than neighbouring provinces.
Last month, PEI Cannabis reported sales of $7.1 million during its first 166 days to a customer base just 20 per cent the size of New Brunswick's.
That puts per-person sales on Prince Edward Island 90 per cent higher than in New Brunswick over the same period.
Although Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have not yet reported their own March 31 results, both provinces were running ahead of New Brunswick in per-person sales late last year by more than 65 per cent.
It has upset senior New Brunswick politicians, including Premier Blaine Higgs and Finance Minister Ernie Steeves, who both demanded quick fixes to the poor results last week.
"To say [I'm] disappointed would be an understatement," Steeves said. "After two full quarters, we've lost $12 million, so that sends a pretty good signal to most everybody."
Cannabis NB blames product supply problems for its sales woes, which has definitely been a factor, and the issue has been significantly worse for New Brunswick than its neighbours
Product shortages have been reported across the country, but last week P.E.I and Nova Scotia's official websites still had 140 and 130 cannabis products in stock and available for purchase, respectively, including dried plants, oils, capsules, pre-rolled joints and seeds.
At the same time, Cannabis NB had only 80 cannabis products for sale.
"We are still not getting the supply we'd like to have," Cannabis NB general manager Lara Wood said during a press conference last week.
"What we're seeing anecdotally from our customers is the demand is where we expected it to be. We just don't have all the products in our portfolio in the right quantities to meet that demand right now."
One advantage Nova Scotia and P.E.I have is that each signed supply agreements with Charlottetown-based cannabis producer Figr, which became a reliable source of products in both provinces from the beginning of legalization.
Last week, 19 of the 140 cannabis products for sale in P.E.I. and 16 of those for sale in Nova Scotia were supplied by Figr. Cannabis NB does not sell the company's products and has been more at the mercy of national shortages.
"In New Brunswick we do have some smaller local suppliers, but they're not licensed yet," Wood told CBC News. "We were more dependent on the bigger [companies] that have contracts across the country."
Worse still for New Brunswick consumers is that on top of the poor availability of products, what is for sale, in many cases, comes at premium prices.
For example, last week all four Atlantic Canadian cannabis agencies were carrying 3.5 gram lots of a product called Walk the Dog by Xscape. Cannabis NB was charging $41.99, including the HST, on its website, between $3 and $7 more than any other province.
Similarly, the pre-rolled joint Citylights by Edison was selling for $7.50 each in New Brunswick including HST, 50 cents more than Cannabis NL was charging and $1 more than consumers in P.E.I. and Nova Scotia pay.
And a bottle of 15 Tweed Bakerstreet cannabis capsules (2.5 mg) listed for $24.99 by Cannabis NB was selling for $22.50 — 10 per cent less — in each of the three other provinces.
Wood said the agency does charge higher margins on some products than other provinces, but she said those are on premium-priced items that still sell out despite the extra markup.
And while Wood said Cannabis NB does intend to provide customers bargain products at prices competitive with other provinces, it currently has none of those in stock.
"We have products at the value end of the spectrum that start as low as $6.67 [per gram]," she said. "We keep those margins tighter to be competitive. The problem is when supply collapsed those value products — we can't keep in stock."
The cheapest in-stock product Cannabis NB currently carries is dried bud from a company called Plain Packaging that sells for $8.57 per gram in seven-gram ($59.99) packages. PEI Cannabis sells the identical product to its customers for 11 per cent less.