Pot profits up in smoke
Alberta business owners were ready to sell cannabis in time for Oct. 17 — investing thousands. But over a month after legalization, some stores remain closed due to crippling supply shortages
Like many budding business owners in Alberta, Chris Zimmerman and his brother felt the exciting rush ahead of the historic legalization of cannabis on Oct. 17.
They jumped through all the regulatory hurdles in order to be licensed sellers of marijuana in time for the date — they built a steel back room and installed a high-tech security system, per regulations, then applied for a permit with the City of Edmonton to ensure they were the only cannabis store within 200 metres. Finally, they put up large, LED signs that read, “Glenora Cannabis,” in big, white lettering on their store in central Edmonton.
The store is ready to open any minute now, except for one final hurdle: Zimmerman and his brother have yet to receive a licence from the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) due to a crippling shortage of cannabis from suppliers. This shortage has forced even some larger, already-licensed businesses to shutter their doors several days a week as they wait for stock.
When the legalization of cannabis was announced nationwide, hundreds of people dashed to join the green rush in Alberta — one of the few provinces that allowed private retailers to cash in on the new business. But the bubble may now be bursting.
“I’m just personally very disappointed by the whole situation,” Zimmerman said. He said his family has invested around $200,000 in their Edmonton store. Zimmerman anticipated the shop would not be operational until mid- to late-November, but the latest estimates from the AGLC suggest that businesses
waiting on a licence may have to hold out another six to 18 months.
“We can make it another four, five months without it being too bad, but this timeline is really hard to handle,” he said. “... We’ve already invested so much in this. The only way to recoup the money at this point is to have the store open.”
Zimmerman is not alone. Jesse Bartlett, a Calgary business owner, broke into cannabis retail by way of a medical dispensary. By the time Oct. 17 rolled around, he had four store locations ready to go. A fifth is currently under appeal. But despite
“I’M FULLY STAFFED, I’M READY TO GO — AND TWIDDLING MY THUMBS.” Jesse Bartlett, Glenora Cannabis
having about a dozen staff and backing from a major Australian investor, Bartlett said he hasn’t been able to open shop at all.
“We have nothing to sell,” he said.
Ongoing supply issues with the AGLC have made it next to impossible for him to justify opening, he said, despite having all the necessary AGLC and city approvals for four-fifths of his stores. Nonetheless, Bartlett still has bills to pay: rent on all his store locations, plus his employees’ wages, which he estimates set him back $65,000 a month.
“That’s been the only issue,” Bartlett said. “I’m fully staffed, I’m ready to go — and twiddling
Getting rid of his storefronts or letting staff go also isn’t an option. The uncertainty of the timeline provided by the AGLC means Bartlett still needs to hang on to — and pay for — everything he needs to run Urban Canna if he wants to stay in the business.
“It could happen tomorrow,” he said of a fix to the supply issues. “And if I’m not fully staffed — again, I’m screwed.
“I’m fighting for my life as I watch my business go up in smoke,” Bartlett said.
Doug Zimmerman, left, and his brother Chris Zimmerman are co-owners of Glenora Cannabis in Edmonton — which has not been able to open due to supply shortages.
Calgary business owner Jesse Bartlet had four cannabis retail locations ready to go in time for legalization. Now he is left to waiting as he watches Urban Canna burn through money without a single store open.