After legalization: Four things to know about cannabis in Quebec

Twitter icon

Call it a cannibersary: Canada marked three months on Thursday since the legalization of recreational cannabis.

In Quebec — where the product is sold by the government-run Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC) — legalization has highlighted the province’s thirst for the “sticky icky” but also some chronic problems that have come with the new market.

Here are four things to know about legal cannabis in Quebec.

1. Despite limited store hours, the SQDC “doesn’t envision” layoffs.

It didn’t take long for the floodgates to open.

Quebecers had all but exhausted the province’s supply of legal weed within hours of legalization. Demand was so high that the government-run SQDC had to shut down three days a week to keep from running dry.

An SQDC spokesperson said the stores won’t expand their hours until the supply crisis comes under control.

There are, however, three exceptions to the rule: locations in Lebourgneuf, Ste-Foy and Drummondville are now open on Wednesdays as part of a pilot project, according to SQDC spokesperson Fabrice Giguère.

In New Brunswick, which is also facing a supply crunch, the government laid off 60 cannabis workers last week to keep the stores profitable. Giguère said that’s unlikely to happen for the 300 employees working at Quebec’s 20 retailers.

“For the moment, we don’t envision any sort of structural re-organization other than the growth of our staff which will coincide with the growth of our network,” Giguère said.

2. It’s unclear when the SQDC will solve its supply problem.

A couple of weeks after legalization, the usual line began to form at the SQDC’s downtown Montreal location.

As it often did, the cue looped from Ste-Catherine St. around the block to Mansfield St. The afternoon raged on and it became clear that product was running low.

One customer walked out the store complaining that the only cannabis flowers left didn’t even have THC — the psychoactive component that givers users a euphoric feeling. Meanwhile, on the SQDC’s website, almost everything was out of stock.

It’s been months and supply problems continue to snag the legal weed game. Lineups are still par for the course outside the SQDC outlets and the store’s website is sold out of dozens of products.

In response to insatiable demand, Canopy Growth increased its Quebec-bound shipments by 60 per cent from October to December. Over that same period, Aurora Cannabis shipped an additional 30 per cent.

Story Continues Below

Still, as Giguère freely admits, supplying the outlets continues to be a challenge.

Three industry insiders told the Montreal Gazette there has been a bottleneck in having licenses approved by Health Canada and we’ll be feeling its affects for the next year at least.

Just over two years ago, there were just a few dozen licensed producers across the country. There are now 140.

3. The supply crunch and other aspects of legalization are hurting medical cannabis patients.

The cannabis shortage rippled from the recreational market to the medical space within hours.

Erin Prosk says patients at Santé Cannabis frantically called the Montreal Clinic in October, worried that they wouldn’t be able to access their medicine.

Though people tend to only think of weed’s psychoactive component when talking about cannabis, the drug’s other major component — cannabidiol (CBD) — is used to treat everything from nausea and chronic pain to depression.

“We didn’t expect there to be so much demand for CBD on the recreational side and it disrupted people’s treatment,” said Prosk, who co-founded the clinic. “We’ve managed to find patients alternate suppliers and we’ve adapted but it hasn’t been easy.”

Prosk says a legal recreational market doesn’t solve one of the fundamental problems medical cannabis patients face: that they have to be their own advocates.

“If cannabis was in pharmacies, the problem of supply would be taken care of by pharmacists and not patients,” she said. “As it stands, patients have to make their own arrangements with licensed producers, they have to calculate doses themselves, it’s like the patient is the pharmacist.”

Furthermore, Prosk argues, the new restrictions on cannabis use that have come with legalization are further marginalizing patients. She says Quebec’s decision to have a zero-tolerance policy on homegrown plants, to ban the public use of cannabis and to allow landlords to evict tenants for using pot are all problematic.

Another provincial law makes it illegal for drivers to have trace amounts of cannabis in their system.

“The problem is cannabinoids are stored in your fat cells for up to a week,” said Prosk. “So, if you’re a patient it means you don’t really get to drive or when you drive you’re terribly nervous.”

4. The black market and “grey market” are still thriving.

When it comes to accessing medical cannabis, Boris St-Maurice fought the law and actually won. Though he’s been arrested for trafficking weed and his dispensary has been raided by police, he’s still in the game.

St-Maurice, the founder of the Montreal Compassion Centre, runs a dispensary that exists in a sort of legal grey area. While the centre only sells cannabis to patients who have a doctor’s prescription, it operates outside of Health Canada’s oversight.

Even so, the dispensary is largely tolerated by local police. In the three months since recreational cannabis became legal, St-Maurice hasn’t noticed a drop in clientèle.

“We have a relationship with people, we don’t have a supply problem and we really care about our people,” St-Maurice told the Montreal Gazette. “So legalization hasn’t really changed anything for us.”

The Montreal Gazette contacted a dozen people who bought weed off drug dealers before it became legal last fall. They still get their cannabis from the black market.

A study released by Statistics Canada found that the price of legal cannabis increased by 17 per cent — jumping from $6.83 to $8.02 per gram in just a few months. That same study found the black market prices are floating around $6.50 per gram.

Meanwhile, three unregulated dispensaries have sprouted on the Mohawk territory of Kanesatake just west of Montreal. Sources in that industry say the weed shops are thriving and do not experience supply shortages.

e-mail icon Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Reddit icon
Rate this article: 
Regional Marijuana News: