New Brunswick

Major round of layoffs at Cannabis NB after 12 weeks in business

Dozens of retail workers at New Brunswick's provincial cannabis authority have been laid off this week.

Layoffs affect dozens of seasonal contracts, plus full-time and part-time workers

Fewer than 90 days after Canada legalized recreational cannabis, New Brunswick's provincial cannabis authority has announced it will terminate about 60 retail positions. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Twelve weeks after Cannabis NB locations opened across New Brunswick, the provincial cannabis authority is laying off about 60 retail workers.

The announcement comes after months of supply issues related to lost crops and packaging equipment problems, and reduced hours for some workers while the province's 20 stores waited for new inventory.

"This decision is representative of normal new retail industry operations and long-term fiscal responsibility," Cannabis NB communications specialist Marie-Andrée Bolduc said in a statement.

The corporation has not released any sales figures since Oct. 24, when it reported $945,000 worth of marijuana had been sold within the first 48 hours of legalization.

There were long lineups at the Cannabis NB store in Rothesay on the first day of legalisation, but no sales figures have been released by Cannabis NB since October. (Julia Wright / CBC)

Three workers per store

Each Cannabis NB store employed about 20 full-time, part-time and casual workers.

Casual employees start at around $19 an hour, while the rate for full-time and part-time employees ranges from $22 to $23 an hour. Unlike casual NB Liquor employees, casual cannabis employees do not have benefits.

"Entering into the third month of operation after the legalisation of adult use cannabis, the day-to-day operations have normalized despite dealing with supply challenges and we have better understanding of operational needs in each store," Bolduc said.

Part of the letter Cananbis NB retail workers received advising them that their employment would be terminated effective immediately. An average of three workers at each of the province's 20 retail locations will be affected by the layoffs, according to a spokesperson for the Crown corporation. (Submitted)

The overall impact of the layoffs is "an average of three team members per store."

The majority of laid-off employees were on seasonal contracts, but some part-time and full-time employees were also affected. 

"This is because on a store by store basis, it is necessary to ensure that the mix of roles in the store is optimized. In some cases, now that the operation has normalized, the mix of roles had to be adjusted," Bolduc said. 

On Wednesday, several workers received letters indicating that their employment would be terminated effective immediately with two weeks' pay in lieu of notice.

"We wish to thank you for your contribution, your passion, and dedication to CANNABIS NB since the beginning. You were a key part of something historical and have been instrumental to the team's success," one employee's termination letter read.

Despite a union drive by CUPE 963, the union representing New Brunswick Liquor workers, Cannabis NB employees are not unionized.

No product to sell

Supply issues at Cannabis NB led to store closures and frustration from some consumers in the early days of legalization.

In June, Brian Harriman, president and CEO of NB Liquor and Cannabis New Brunswick, stated some 250 different products would be carried at Cannabis NB's 20 retail locations.

The stores are built to accommodate up to 800 different products.

But in reality, the selection has been much more limited.

Cannabis NB stores were expected to open with about 250 product varieties, but most stores in New Brunswick are low on stock and carry only a small fraction of that. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC)

On Wednesday, there were 67 cannabis products listed for sale on Cannabis NB's website, including dried flower, extracts, seeds and pre-rolled joints.

But 43 of those products — over 64 per cent of the total offerings — were sold out in all 20 retail locations.

Customers searching for products like Liiv Kinky Kush, pictured, might be disappointed. Out of 67 cannabis products Cannabis NB sells, 43 of them are sold out in all retail locations. (Cannabis NB)

An additional 13 products were sold out in the majority of locations.

While some of the sold-out products remained available for purchase via Cannabis NB's website, it costs an additional $7 for home delivery — and requires a credit card.

On Dec. 20, 2018, Canadian privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien cautioned Canadian consumers that using a credit card to buy cannabis could put their personal information at risk.

High prices

In October, Statistics Canada reported the average street price for cannabis in Atlantic Canada was around $7 per gram.

But Cannabis NB's products are considerably north of that amount — and less expensive, one-gram packages tend to sell out quickly.

Cannabis NB's website advertises products ranging from $7.50 for a single joint to $96.99 for seven grams — a little pricey by street standards. (Cannabis NB)

Dried bud known as Lemon Skunk, for example, is priced $15.50 for a single gram, including taxes, in New Brunswick — one of the most expensive prices listed across Canada.

In Prince Edward Island, the same product was retailing for $14.50. In Newfoundland and Labrador, it was $14, and it was $13.43 in Nova Scotia, 

Prices were even lower west of the region: Ontario ($13.25), Manitoba ($12.60) and British Columbia ($11.22).

Quarterly sales results expected

Cannabis NB did not comment Wednesday on whether slower-than-predicted customer traffic or supply problems factored into Wednesday's layoffs.

"Cannabis NB has reviewed its current business needs on a store  by store basis and a decision was made to reduce the existing staff complement to ensure alignment with the needs of the business," Bolduc said.

"The teams and roles were structured to allow flexibility in the delivery of the customer experience needed and manage expectations that staffing of stores may change after launch."

Cannabis NB is expected to release its first quarterly sales figures at the end of January.

About the Author

Julia Wright

Information Morning Saint John host

Julia Wright is a lifelong Saint Johner and the host of Information Morning Saint John. She has been with the CBC since 2016.