Getting edibles legalization right: How Canada can learn lessons from the first wave of cannabis legalization.

Edibles are just weeks away from being legal in Canada, but retailers are bracing for long waits before they have products to sell.

While many Canadians eagerly await the second wave of cannabis legalization that will pave a pathway for edibles, topical’s and extracts to hit the legal supply stream, it’s going to be some time before products actually arrive on shelves and in the hands of consumers.

Health Canada has stated that new products are subject to a minimum 60-day waiting period. This means that any newly legalized product applications submitted to the federal government on Oct. 17, 2019 can’t receive approval before Dec. 17. 

Surely, storefronts are going to be fielding questions from confused and perhaps frustrated individuals who walk in excited to try a cannabis cookie or an extract.

The reality is that it’s going to be months before these products are actually available for Canadians to purchase and retailers are already bracing for the challenges that lay ahead in educating consumers on the process. And, surely, having to explain why they don’t have products in stock yet.

Groundwork Consulting’s Courtland Sandover-Sly told Grow Tech Labs, products will only be on shelves around Christmas if it’s the “perfect of the perfect of the perfect situation.”

“That's assuming the application goes right in, doesn't hit any speed bumps and you get the approval literally within the 60-day period.” He said companies with previously established relationships with the government will have a “leg up” through that process. 

“There will be a situation where for the first probably six months, maybe even a year, where edibles and other forms of cannabis are legalized but there may be just one or two or three products on the market. Hopefully a year from now there will be a wave of new entrants to the market and a wave of existing cultivation and processing companies getting into that as well. So maybe a year from Oct. 17 there will actually be a healthy supply in the market,” he added.

Sandover-Sly noted application challenges and delays could be exacerbated for food products with the conditions imposed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“There's a lot to navigate there. That's a whole new can of worms. I don't think anybody's really delved into that in terms of media and talking about that whole their layer.”

We know these products are going to be in demand. But we also know consumers have a level of quality they will expect in the legal realm. Government, of course, has to do its due diligence in reviewing product applications and quality control, but we hope this can be balanced with the struggles retailers face fielding questions about why they don’t have products yet. 

Andrew Gordon of cannabis retailer KIARO said the company is already bracing for questions from consumers about edibles, amid an already challenging supply stream in the first wave of products legalized in 2018. Gordon pointed to “consistent stock outs” on popular categories including pre-rolls and CBD products. 

“If we’re going to have any hope of creating and realizing the utopia potential that cannabis has for our province in terms of economic impact and eroding the illicit market and protecting public health and safety, and keeping us out of the hands of young people, then we really need to work together to build a sight line on these key issues that are big stumbling blocks out the gate,” Gordon said. “The quality and variety the consistency of supply. It's great that phase two products are now coming in. You look at what the products online are really, you know blowing off the shelves. It is a lot of these extract products, these are what consumers need these what they expect to see when they walk into a retail environment.”

In order for retailers to compete, he added, “we have to be able to offer the same breadth of products that are available online.” These products are expected to attract millions of new customers as part of what’s predicted to be a multi-billion-dollar industry. Let’s hope governments have learned some lessons from the first wave of legalization, and work to get a decent offering of quality products to the market in a reasonable timeframe. 

We’ve seen supply struggles following 2018’s wave legalization. Not only were few products available, they were not up to the expected quality standards of consumers, meaning illegal supply streams have not dried up. 

The government’s goal with legalization is to drive sales away from the black market. Without legal, quality products available on the market for Canadians, there’s no chance of achieving that. 

Alex Troll