I had an idea a few weeks ago, one that I hadn’t bothered with sooner because, truth be told, I’m not a weed guy. I like the investment opportunity, and I’ve lately taken to the wonderful effects of CBD, but I’m not much of a straight up weed dog.
But hey, I thought, I keep hearing how great Supreme’s 7 Acres product is on social media, maybe I should see if could find some and have it delivered to the office for ‘staff appreciation day.’
Thus began my first hand tour of the trainwreck that is trying to buy legal weed in BC, even a year after it was legalized.
For the uninitiated, the BC public employee unions had their eyes on weed from the outset. They’re shit at helping you figure out what sassy red to choose with a nice salmon, their hours are all over the place, but they figured they’d be the best folks to help us find the right strain to deal with back pain. You know, because booze and weed mix so well. Or something.
The new BC NDP government were more than happy to shovel the industry their way and avoid conflict with their paymasters, and so it was that an entire industry of people who, rightly or wrongly, had decades of experience serving cannabis customers was to be replaced with Beryl from Courtenay, who doesn’t have Australian beers in stock even though IT’S WHAT THE NATION IS FAMOUS FOR, but has a Turkish beer that’s been on the bottom shelf since Expo, and some other beer in Buddha shaped bottles, and why would you not be happy with Vitamin P, hipster?
“Do you even know how long it takes for them to train the cat to stand over the bottle?!”
So here we are, about a year into out public employee-driven industry building, and there’s five BC government stores out there in the wild to try and, I had to check this a few times because it seems legitimately insane – none of them are in Vancouver.
Let me add to that – NONE OF THE 11 OTHER STORES PLANNED TO OPEN IN THE FUTURE ARE IN VANCOUVER EITHER.
There are two stores on Vancouver Island, two in Kamloops, one beyond that in Cranbrook, nestled up against the Rockies – but nothing in the biggest fucking city in the province. None in the suburbs, none in the Fraser Valley, just nothing.
If I decided to really follow the rules, and drive to the nearest government weed store in BC to my office, this is what I’m facing.
Repeat: “THIS ROUTE INCLUDES A FERRY.”
To really hammer this point home: The BC Liquor Board is planning a store in VANDERHOOF, BC, population 4,500.
Not ‘major population centre Prince George’ which is over an hour drive away, no, they selected Vanderfuckinghoof.
There are four elementary schools in Vanderhoof. I know this because, on its Wikipedia page, that this municipality (as opposed to a city or town) has schools is one of the few items they’ve noted about themselves. There was a telegraph line leading to Vanderhoof once, if you’re interested.
And now there’s going to be a government weed store.
The effect this is having on the Vancouver market is seen in stark confirmation in this CBC data chart.
And the effect when compared to other parts of the country can be seen below, where BC spends the lowest of all provinces and territories in the country on a per head basis – by far.
For 95% of BC residents, to participate in this industry in a legal way, you’re forced to go online and use the BC Cannabis Stores website which advertises delivery to your home
Top tip: If you’re teaching a course on how to build a website from 2005, I recommend diving in because it has all the Web 1.0 highlights. If they added an animated mailbox graphic and some flashing text, they could pass it off as a MySpace page.
If you want to know which companies have an automatic advantage in BC sales, look no further than the drop down menus you’re greeted with when you arrive on the page (after doing the ridiculous self-verified age check thing, which has never stopped any child, ever, from accessing a website – can we be done with that rubbish bottleneck please?).
Congrats to Supreme for getting three spots on this five spot roster, one for 7 Acres, and two for their subsidiary Blissco which, obvs, gets two spots and nobody has noticed at BC Cannabis Store HQ.
But hey, what better way to present your potential e-commerce options to customers than to assume they want THE ONE BEGINNING WITH ‘A’?
You know why doesn’t Amazon list search results in order of the alphabetized name of the guy selling you your Grisham novel?
Because EVERYONE WILL CALL THEMSELVES AAARON AAAARDVARK MAYBE?
I’m being told there’s not sliding bar. No number entry. Instead, you get ‘above 4%’ and ‘Below 4%.’
Are. You. Kidding.
This could be a minor issue if, on the subsequent page, you could filter search results by level of CBD but, well, no.
Once again, BC Cannabis Stores thinks you’re REALLY desperate to buy something with the letter A in the title.. or maybe even a Z.. but screw you if you’d like actual product information.
This is diabolical. It should be a firing situation to have built something this arcane but did I mention unionized public employees are behind this?
Do you want a money losing store in Vanderhoof? Because that’s how you get a money losing store in Vanderhoof.
The Sensi from 7Acres (fat chance we’re ever getting Jean Guy out here), the ‘Free’ oil spray from Aphria’s Soleil brand, a Bubba Kush Oil from I have no idea where (because the order confirmation doesn’t mention brands at all and they’re now out of stock and don’t display out of stock items), and some gel caps, again from parts unknown.
As you can see, I’m a great little customer, paying shipping and GST and PST, and more PST on the shipping because they just gotta get that extra $0.56.
And then I waited.
Turns out, the waiting would be more than just the TEN DAYS it takes for your order to arrive ACROSS TOWN, because this ridiculous website uses Canada Post’s automatic ‘AddressComplete’ to confirm addresses, and my building has only one listed suite in that system. I’m at 200, Canada Post’s system insists there’s only a 400, and changes your address on the page to match what it thinks is the only address possible in a 12 storey building.
I didn’t notice at the time. I’ve noticed more recently as we’ve had similar issues with bank websites, food ordering, and more.
So, realizing my weed was going to the wrong place, I called the BC Cannabis Stores support line. Helpful guy there told me it was a common problem, and ‘the good news is it will come back to us.’
The bad news? ‘We can’t re-send.’
So I’ll get my money back, and then I can re-order whenever I want. Of course, the products I wanted will be out of stock (half of them already are), and I’ll be waiting another ten days for delivery. But hey, great news for me!
There are no plans to fix this, according to the guy I spoke to. I should probably call Canada Post to fix the order, he said.
COOL. So I did that. Half hour wait on the phone and the call eventually dropped out. Switched to online chat support, who took my details down and said my delivery info would be properly changed.. IN TEN DAYS.
When I asked if he was walking the information across town, and if I could have a direct number to that delivery office to fix the situation, the chat was ended. No goodbye. Just ‘this chat has ended.’
ALL I WANT TO DO IS OBEY THE FUCKING RULES AND GIVE THE GOVERNMENT MY MONEY! HOW IS IT THIS HARD?!
At this point I briefly considered just reordering through the government site, but the things I wanted were largely gone and, you know, I hate this and refuse to do business with it. I’m done.
So I went private.
Can’t do business directly with the licensed producers because they’re restricted to medical patients, and I’m not that. Tried to go with Namaste’s (N.C) CannMart, because it sells a wide range of products, but it too has the medical restriction.
So I went to the licensed dispensary market, small as it is. There are licensed dispensaries in Vancouver, but it’s tough to tell where they are. There’s still a load of illegal stores that the city is in no rush to kill because the optics are bad when you kick in doors of your constituents, and because Vancouver is raked with empty commercial storefronts. Right about now, if you took out a storefront lease on Robson Street and put up signage offering rub’n’tugs to minors, weed by the bucket, and fireworks of questionable quality control, nobody’s coming to arrest you.
So if you find a store with a leaf-shaped neon sign, it may be a legal dispensary (but probably not), it may be an ‘informational’ or ‘society’-based bullshit unlicensed dispensary that’s trying really hard to play by the rules but sick of waiting and will sneak you out back if you don’t look like a cop, or it might be a gang-run Affliction-t-shirt-filled ‘don’t give me your ID, just give me your cash’ operation that you should probably buy in bulk from because they may not be there tomorrow.
TO REITERATE: I’M TRYING TO DO THIS LEGAL.
So I find a legal dispensary, City Cannabis, which has a nice website but doesn’t appear to do any online business. On the prairies this isn’t an issue, they’ll deliver to your door. In Alberta, there are 280 legal dispensaries so far. If you want cannabis in most of Canada, it will show up.
But in Vancouver, if you can even find a legal joint joint, prepare to be disappointed.
Get into the physical store, or don’t even think about it.
Abandoning online sales, I go to City Cannabis. This experience is as frustrating as any part of this enterprise.
It’s 100% legal, which doesn’t mean it’s better – it means it’s far worse than what you’d expect.
Don’t expect to handle the plant. Instead you’ll get an ‘interactive tablet experience’ where you can see a thing you’ll be tasting later, but not taste or smell that thing. And they can’t tell you what strain will fix something that ails you because that’s forbidden. And the branding is almost entirely hidden. And the product selection is small, and looks horrible when you actually see it, and the staff, when you point all this out, shrug because you’re supposed to be AMAZED that it comes from the back room through a pneumatic tube, like something out of a 1940’s accountant office.
I left, disappointed and empty handed.
Clearly, it was time to go grey market.
YOU PUSHED ME TO THIS, GOVERNMENT.
First stop, Google, where a search for ‘cannabis vancouver online’ brought me to GrassExpress.com, which looks to me like something you’d expect to see shut down by a government that didn’t have trouble finding its ass with both hands.
My first hesitation with this crew was their trumpeting of Cannabis Culture connections on the front page. I can’t do Marc Emery and his decades long sex pest history gussied up as activism, nor Jodie Emery and her ‘I swear I was 16 the first time’ routine.
Until i saw the product.
Look, I’m sure the people who grew this are good people, and maybe they follow the best standards and practices, and maybe they don’t have bacteria and pesticides and fecal matter on their product, though a Globe and Mail test of a bunch of grey market products last year found exactly that on many, and reports from Spain showed that’s not a one-off.
But I just can’t get with buying a product that looks like it was literally packaged by my kid. I don’t know where Honest Springs is, who they are, what they do, and I don’t want to ingest that situation. I’m all for the legal industry not just because of the investment potential, but because I want real grownup products for real grownup people, with safety standards and consistency and to know it wasn’t produced by guys in leathers in a basement suite in Surrey.
So I ditched my XpressGrass experience before it began.
The next step: Craigslist:
Jesus Christ, BC. Get your shit together.
To all LP’s, a word of advice: Don’t waste your time selling to the BC system. Starve it. Steal its oxygen. Let it be a flop of gigantic proportions. Because there’s is no fixing this while participating in the system currently.
To paraphrase Lady Liberty, send them your tired, your sorry, your scuzzy flowers yearning to be trees.
BC isn’t alone in completely botching its dispensary rollout. The recent lottery in Ontario, to decide who’d get licenses for the next rollout of stores, was gamed by disgraced former Aphria boss Vic Neufeld and friends, who laid out hundreds of applications using falsified information, for friends and family, real addresses and imagined, and received government blessing while others who did things the right way were ignored.
Meanwhile, the son of the co-founder of cannabis licence holder Aphria, which is still trying to shake off accusations of engaging in an international shell game to inflate its stock price, is reportedly also among the lucky winners. As is the wife of legal counsel for the [Alcohol and Gaming Commission].
Also, the AGCO announced three winners in Innisfil all of whom proposed locations steps away from each other on the same street.
The system was a mess:
Applicants were required to provide $250,000 in cash and a $50,000 letter of credit to get in on the lottery action. More than 180 individuals submitted multiple applications for some 15 addresses connected to HighLife. Six of those applications were successful, which would make them the largest retail chain in the province if approved by the AGCO after the next evaluation phase.
HighLife’s existing location has received multiple fines from the AGCO for non-compliance. From advertising its services on highway billboards, to offering inducements, HighLife has made a name for itself among customers in northern Ontario, who will travel many kilometres to visit the cannabis retail store.
An applicant by the name of Cory Floyd Cacciavillani was also named as a winner to open up a store in Burlington, Ont. According to a friend of the family, Cacciavillani’s father is Cole Cacciavillani one of the founders of Leamington-based licensed producer Aphria, who is no longer with the company but remains a large shareholder.
I JUST WANT TO BUY LEGALLY.
I don’t know if the BC NDP think they’re going to make money for the province by forcing people to do engage in business dealings with their unionized brothers, or if this is some sort of misguided human engineering attempt at stopping the citizenry from partaking in cannabis products.
But whatever it is, it’s costing the province tens of millions of dollars, while other provinces are making bank and building industries that will stand the test of time and be world leaders.
In BC, a dispensary I long ago invested in as a private deal, which had received countless ‘best of BC’ awards and was run to the highest of standards, both in administration and supply chain and employee quality, shut its doors, because the group wants to remain lawful.
That’s cost us all, and especially its customers, who are now enduring their own version of the misadventure I just laid out, and asking friends if they know a good dealer.
Like I am.
— Chris Parry
FULL DISCLOSURE: Supreme Cannabis is an Equity.Guru marketing client.
Disclaimer: ALWAYS DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH and consult with a licensed investment professional before making an investment. This communication should not be used as a basis for making any investment.