Power & Politics

Shopify CEO says he can't project demand for online marijuana sales

The CEO of the company that is helping to run online pot sales for Ontario and B.C. said he is unable to project how much demand there will be for cannabis when it becomes legal for recreational use Oct. 17.

Company is providing e-commerce platform for Ontario and B.C. cannabis sales

Shopify Inc.'s Tobias Lutke says you cannot rely on black market numbers to determine the potential size of the legal recreational cannabis market. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The CEO of the company helping to run online marijuana sales for Ontario and B.C. said he is unable to project demand for cannabis once it becomes legal for recreational use on Oct. 17.

"There is an entire building in Ottawa — Stats Can — that is oriented around trying to collect as much data around this as possible, because no country has done this experiment yet," said Shopify's Tobias Lutke in an interview with CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

"All everyone can do is say, 'Let's be as prepared as we can be, and be as flexible as we can be, and let's help figure out a way to deliver these products in the way the government wants us to,'" he told host Vassy Kapelos.

Tobias Lutke says, "all everyone can do is say let's be as prepared as we can be and be as flexible as we can be." 2:52

In February, the Ontario government signed a deal with Shopify to use the company's e-commerce platform for online cannabis sales.

The Ottawa-based firm's technology was set to be used in government-run brick-and-mortar stores, but the new provincial government cancelled those plans. Ontario residents initially will be able to buy cannabis only online, although the province is aiming to have private retail stores in place by April 2019.

British Columbia also enlisted Shopify to provide an e-commerce platform for its recreational cannabis sales. The company will create two online sales portals: one for consumers and one for use by private retail stores.

Lutke said his company is doing its very best to make the technology work. 

"Honestly, this is what people like me live for," he said. "Here's a very complex challenge. Technology clearly is going to play a role to make it all work. Let's try our best to figure it out and, if certain aspects of it fail, we all learn something and adjust really quickly and make it happen. That's the fun part of the job."

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