Buzzkill: Dominion strike leaves central Newfoundland shoppers with no cannabis retailer
Critics say it shows a gap in legalization, and people are heading to the illegal market
The almost four-week-old Dominion strike is turning into a major buzzkill for cannabis enthusiasts in central Newfoundland, who have been left with no retail outlets for miles.
Dominion was granted the only two initial retail licenses for cannabis sales in the area, and the store's contract dispute with Unifor Local 597 has led to the closure of both establishments — as well as eight others across the province.
"It's just a big bummer all around, really," said Jennifer Warren of Gambo. "You gotta order stuff online — and with COVID, too, the mail thing slows everything down."
Warren says cannabis is part of her daily routine with her boyfriend, but ordering by mail is just not the same.
"It gets imprisoned in Dieppe for a couple days, and then you see it's tracked but it's in St. John's on Friday and you don't get your stuff until Monday, it kind of ruins your weekend. You can't just drive to Gander to pick up a couple of grams of weed for your Friday night."
Warren's new closest outlet is in Clarenville, a two-hour round trip. The farther into central Newfoundland you go, the farther away the product becomes.
In Lewisporte, customers have two roughly equivalent options: a drive to Clarenville, or to Conne River, on the island's south coast. Each is about two hours away.
Cannabis enthusiast Jonathan Norris says most people aren't going to make that trip — they're going to find alternatives.
"What that does is it forces people into the grey market, where they might not want to be," he said.
"All I hear from my friends that are living in central is, 'Well, I used to go down to Dominion, it was close ... I didn't have to deal with calling a guy,'" he said. "All this stuff you've ever seen in the movies, or whatever it is, people don't want to do that."
Norris hosts a Facebook live stream most days that he calls Cannabis Corner. He broadcasts to his Facebook group of 4,000 people who consume and chat about cannabis.
'It's what they need, you know?'
He says many people in his audience, like him, take the drug for medicinal purposes.
Many people, he said, decided to stop seeking prescriptions when the drug became legal in 2018. That's adding another level of sting to the Dominion closures.
"To some, it seems petty, but to some it's their medicinal relief, it's what they need, you know?" he said.
According to presentations in 2018, the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation was anticipating awarding retail licenses in the Lewisporte postal code area, and in the Springdale postal code area. However, no stores ever opened in those regions.
Norris said he got a copy of the application, but applying was not realistic for him.
"It's a high budget to submit an application and have the right people on your team to help you fill out said paperwork and legalities," he said. "I just never had the resources. Did I see the market? One hundred per cent."
Margins low for taking on product: shop owner
It's a similar story for Nancy Kane, owner of Mainly Mags in the Gander Mall.
She also got the paperwork, but was surprised by the length and complexity of the application, and by some of the requirements.
"You had to have special types of locks and security cameras in your store, certain locking cabinets to store. You had to have a plan in place for any wastage," she said.
All those requirements — for just an eight per cent profit margin on the products — didn't make sense for her, she said. But the store still sells accessories, and she says these days she's almost kicking herself.
"You wouldn't believe the number of people here that are saying, 'Is there anywhere else they can go to, besides Clarenville?'" Kane said.
CBC News has asked the NLC, which regulates cannabis sales, whether its authorized online portal, ShopCannabisNL.ca, has seen an increase in sales since the Dominion strike started.
Kane said she's hearing that many shoppers are going in a different, illicit direction.
"I've talked to a lot of people that have mentioned a lot of places online that they are getting it from, and they are getting it really cheap."
Norris said over the past three weeks, weaknesses in the provincial plan for cannabis sales have become clear.
"In the first year of legalization, I believe … Newfoundland reported $36 million in sales in legal cannabis. That's no small market right there, so in just going with the numbers, does that not show a need, in our little island to have more of a proper structure for something like this?"