The one licensed cannabis store in Labrador opened at 4:20 p.m. on legalization day, but not because its owners were trying to be cute.
High North couldn’t have admitted its first wave of customers any earlier: the business didn’t receive its maiden shipment of legal weed until 1:30 that afternoon, when employees discovered the supplier had sent only a fraction of the order. The people of Labrador City were queued up outside, eager to be let in. And when they were finally allowed through the door, they bought every last strain on the shelves in three hours.
Rather suddenly, Brenda and Trevor Tobin had nothing left to offer them.
Supply shortages have debilitated the Tobins’ mom-and-son operation more or less from the moment cannabis became legal in Canada two weeks ago. For several days after Oct. 17, High North was stocked with the drug for a grand total of one hour — the time it took for a second small delivery to sell out. In the interim, the owners adopted a new daily routine: explaining their plight to hundreds of callers and turning away an equivalent number of visitors to the shop.
“We’d say, ‘Sorry, boss, we don’t have any product here,’ ” Brenda Tobin said in an interview. Forced to depart empty-handed, many would-be customers replied, “I guess it’s back to the black market.”
Fed up with apologizing to people and tired of having to pay staff to stand around waiting for shipments that never arrive, the Tobins closed High North for four days from this past Friday to Monday, in an effort to save themselves a bit of money. It marked an end to an inauspicious first chapter of legal cannabis sales in Labrador, a massive geographic region that has borne the brunt of the Canadian cannabis industry’s inability to satisfy the country’s enthusiasm for the drug.
A scarcity of cannabis has been reported at private and government retailers across Canada, indicating that the producers authorized to supply those stores weren’t quite ready to meet demand. Manitoba’s brick-and-mortar and online stores could be short of cannabis for the next six months. Quebec’s 12 storefronts will be closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays indefinitely due to a lack of availability. Some Ontarians who placed orders online on Oct. 17 didn’t get their shipment for more than a week.
Although Newfoundland and Labrador issued cannabis licences to 24 stores, High North is the only retailer on the province’s mainland, making it the lone brick-and-mortar option for a population of more than 25,000 people spread across several hundred kilometres. Brenda Tobin said she and Trevor, with whom she also co-owns two convenience stores, have poured more than $100,000 into High North since being awarded their licence earlier this year.
“Every day we’ve got no product, we’ve got no money coming in to be paying our bills,” said Brenda, speaking by phone from Labrador City on Tuesday afternoon after she and her son sat down for a late breakfast at a hotel restaurant. It had been a hectic morning for the Tobins: they were finally able to reopen High North after receiving another portion of their original order, news that had attracted a crowd of dozens by the time the store opened at 10 a.m.
Happy customers were a welcome sight, but the Tobins figured they’d have to close the store again as soon as they ran out of stock, which could happen on Wednesday. They were still waiting on the bulk of the initial order they’d placed with their first supplier and had contacted two other companies to try to augment their stockpile. They declined to identify any of those producers because they don’t want to derail those business relationships.
“We don’t want to throw anybody under the bus,” Brenda said. “We’re very easy to get along with. We don’t like ruffling feathers. All we ask for is to have our product and make the sales, you know?”
In the meantime, the Tobins say they’ve urged the producers they’ve been waiting on to accelerate their delivery process by shipping to Labrador along a more direct course. By Trevor’s account, orders that have successfully arrived at High North were first routed through Montreal and St. John’s, N.L. — a city that is actually further (about 2,000 kilometres by car and ferry) from Labrador City than Toronto (an 1,800-kilometre drive).
“I could drive to Ontario and come back quicker than they’re flying (our orders) all around the East Coast,” Trevor said. “We’ve been telling all of our producers to look at a map, please, and send it directly to Labrador City.”
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