'We don’t have it yet': Delays in cannabis edibles distribution in B.C.
VANCOUVER -- It’s legal to buy as of Tuesday, but there won’t be any authorized cannabis edibles sold in British Columbia until the BC Liquor Distribution Branch receives shipments from producers, and that won’t happen until Wednesday at the earliest.
Cannabis retailers have to buy from the BCLDB, which sells its own cannabis product through a handful of bricks-and-mortar stores and online, but the government agency says it’s still waiting on producers who’ve run into hurdles producing candies, THC-infused beverages, topical ointment and vape pens.
"In the past week or two one producer said ‘Oh, for sure I'll have edibles for you this week’ and now we're told ‘No, I won't have anything for you until February,'" said BCLDB spokesperson Viviana Zanocco, explaining there’s been an issue with meeting Health Canada’s requirements that edible products not require refrigeration.
"I think a lot of the licenced producers are having challenges in terms of making shelf-stable products,”said Zanocco, adding “We registered 260 individual products and we'll have a very small fraction of that available for the end of the year, let alone for the first couple of months."
BCLDB expects their first shipment of a few chocolates Wednesday, with availability for online sales and retailers to buy from the government as early as Thursday.
That has retailers like The Village Bloomery’s Andrea Dobbs expecting customers won’t be able to buy the Christmas gifts they’ve been asking her for.
"We are not holding our breath and we've had to position ourselves way back," she said, explaining chocolates and gummies top the wish-list for buyers looking for edibles.
“If you get chocolates this Christmas, wonderful, but if you don't get it this Christmas you'll get it early in the new year – we're all going to do our best to get as much access to these products as we can," said Dobbs.
Chocolates and gummies have been popular with medical cannabis users up until now, with the mucous membranes in the mouth absorbing some of the THC and the rest absorbed through the stomach for a more gentle and consistent onset of the effects.
The wrong government regulator?
With delays in storefront cannabis approvals and the snail's-pace intrdocution of edible cannabis and craft production, a local entrepreneur and advocate is questioning whether Industry Canada needs to take over the cannabis file.
"I think Health Canada did an exemplary job on the regulations, but now the implementation needs to be handed over to a ministry that understands consumer packaged goods, that needs to talk about distribution and retail,” said Growtech CEO Barinder Rasode.
"The implementation of this file has had some serious unintended consequences on the economics of the cannabis industry and I think the edibles is an example of that,” she said. “Here we have a huge economic opportunity with the Christmas rush and no consideration was actually given to the implementation, the market, the economy and the tax collection of the edibles."
Edible cannabis products affect the body more gradually, making them popular with seniors and others who don’t wish to smoke the dried plant or have the instant effects of smoking or vaping. Experts encourage users, especially those experimenting for the first time, to go slow and remember the effect can take half an hour to a couple of hours to be felt.
Government has faced some criticism for the small dosages it requires for each package or dose of edible cannabis, but officials have pointed out that government oversight comes with strict requirements around potency and quality.
“The beauty of edibles and beverages is you can really manage the potency … people can really control how they feel,” Adine Fabiani-Carter, chief marketing officer at cannabis company Tilray, told CTVNews.ca earlier this year.
B.C. isn’t the only province facing shortage and a sluggish supply chain.
Ontario, Quebec and Alberta have their own regulations, which means the brownies, bevvies and bonbons may not be available until at least mid-January.
"This is going to take a little while,” warned Zanocco. “It's coming, it's going to be a great market but a little bit of patience is required until licenced producers catch up with demand."
She admits even government middle-men don’t know what they’re getting or when, despite daily and even hourly updates form producers.
"What they provide, in the end, and what we have available for Thursday is anybody's guess right now because it's a matter of them getting the product to us."