Nfld. & Labrador

A year has passed since cannabis was legalized. Is the grass any greener?

Cutomers lined up to applaud as the first legal cannabis in Canada was sold in N.L. one year ago. But as the industry reflects on a rocky year, are people still cheering?

NLC recorded $5.1M in net earnings in the first 10 months of legalization

Canopy Growth CEO Bruce Linton, left, holds the receipt for the first legal cannabis for recreation use sold in Canada to Nikki Rose, centre, and Ian Power at the Tweed shop on Water Street in St. John's N.L. at 12:01 a.m. Oct. 17, 2018. (Paul Daly/Canadian Press)

A full year has passed since hundreds of people lined up outside cannabis stores to be part of the first legal marijuana transactions in Canada. 

At Tweed's flagship store in downtown St. John's, for instance, people cheered as camera crews around North America captured the historic moment.

A year later, are people still cheering?

"At the end of the day our No. 1 mandate was to provide safe, secure product for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and I think we did that," said Peter Murphy, chief merchandising officer of the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation.

All eyes were on St. John's, Oct. 17, 2018, as the first legal cannabis transaction took place. (CBC)

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians bought more than $36 million in marijuana, totalling about 3,600 kilograms of product, according to the NLC.

Murphy said that is millions of dollars taken from the black market, something the organization is proud of. 

But some marijuana users told CBC News they are less than impressed with the way the government has handled the first year of legalization, which has led them back to the black market.

"The only thing legalization did for me is lower my dealer's prices," said one user. CBC News has agreed not to share the person's identity. 

A recreational cannabis user says due to high prices and shortage of legal product, he still buys cannabis from a black market dealer. (Joe Mahoney/The Canadian Press)

The person, who said he uses marijuana every day, said the product he buys at Tweed costs about $12 a gram, while his dealer charges him about $5 for a similar product. 

His dealer often lowers the price when he buys in bulk and he delivers within hours to his house.

"If I am just doing the economics of it … it's just not really maintainable, especially if you do smoke a lot."

Although not much has changed for him and some of his friends, he does believe more casual users are probably buying legally because of the safety of the product.

But until the selection of legal product gets better and the prices drop, he said, he will continue to buy illegally.

Peter Murphy, chief merchandising officer of the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation, says the NLC has brought a safe and secure product to stores. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Murphy said the NLC is monitoring other provinces to get pricing where it needs to be to bring more people away from the black market.

"There will probably always be an illicit market there but we are doing our best to really disrupt what is going on right now," Murphy said.

Shortage issues 

Shortly after the hype surrounding legalization, a different type of story was making headlines in Newfoundland and Labrador — pot shops without pot. 

Licensed retailers across the province complained of not getting product in that people wanted and being stuck with product that was unsellable. 

A few pot shops were on the brink of shutting their doors, and a store in Clarenville closed after they said suppliers were giving first dibs to larger corporate stores.

"There has been a few times that we were running pretty low [and] we had to put a sign up on the door," said Megan Kennedy, the owner of Natural Vibe in St. John's.

There are three marijuana production companies that are building facilities in the province. The NLC says once they are up and running, shortage issues should be non-existent. 

Eight per cent commission not ideal 

Kennedy said she doesn't make much money off the cannabis products she sells and would like to see the commission for licensed retailers increased from its current eight per cent.

"When you get operating and you see all your expenses and the cost to operate a business it definitely starts to add up," she said. 

Megan Kennedy, owner of the Natural Vibe on Water Street, says she thought the first year of legalization went well overall. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Regardless, Kennedy said the last year has been a positive experience, considering it was the first, and she hopes that next year, with some co-operation from the NLC, will be more profitable. 

Thomas H. Clarke, a retailer in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's, says his shop is in the hole even after selling $1.55 million in product.

The NLC, however, has made money. Ten months after legalization, the corporation says it has recorded $5.1 million in net earnings.

Murphy said the corporation has had consultation meetings with the licensed cannabis retailers and are will adapt to what needs to be done after the first year.

Cannabis 2.0: Edibles on the horizon

Edibles, topicals and extracts have become legal today.

That means people will be able to purchase food infused with cannabis, lotions and even makeup. Previously only cannabis plant, oral spray and capsules were allowed.

However, the NLC said those products won't be on the market until mid-December at the earliest. Health Canada, which regulates cannabis products, requires 60 days' notice before making a new product available for sale.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

About the Author

Meg Roberts is a video journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, based in St. John's. Email her at meg.roberts@cbc.ca.

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