Canada’s chronic shortage of legal cannabis expected to drag out for years

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Canada’s persistent shortage of legal cannabis could drag on for years. The impending legalization of edible pot will only divert more product away from empty store shelves across the country. One industry insider said he now expects that shortage to endure until 2022.

« If it was just the current product set, I’d say a year to 18 months, » said Chuck Rifici, CEO of the Toronto-based cannabis company Auxly.

« But because we have edibles and a bunch of new product types coming in October, I think it’ll be the better part of three years before we have true equilibrium and oversupply in the space. »

Licensed producers have been adding capacity in droves. Millions of square feet of new greenhouse space has been built since last summer. But for every new gram produced, new demand is piling up as well.

« The medical cannabis market still grows by about five per cent a month, » said Rifici. « We have about 300,000 Canadians accessing medically, so that’s a drain on the system, as well as international exports that are starting to amplify. »

Edibles industry ramps up

Meanwhile, the edible cannabis side of the industry is only starting to ramp up. The makers of Corona beer and Kim Crawford wines teamed up with Canopy Growth and expect to roll out cannabis-infused beer and wine. Budweiser partnered with Tilray, and Molson-Coors created their own joint venture with Quebec-based Hexo.

Cannabis-infused food and drink promises to open a whole new segment of the market. A recent report by Deloitte found 49 per cent of probable cannabis users in Canada are willing to try edibles. But that growth comes with a whole new batch of regulations and expectations.

It may take as many as three years before licensed producers are growing enough to supply the recreational, medicinal and edible markets. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Health Canada will require strict rules around shelf life and refrigeration. There will be specific rules around doses per serving. And that’s where Kevin Letun and Pacific Rim Brands hope to step in. His company has partnered with labs at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna and the British Columbia Institute of Technology to dig into the science behind all that.

« Because this is a brand new consumer product and it’s utilizing a schedule-1 drug that’s been illegal for the last 80 years, consumers are going to want to trust the brand that they’re going to be trying in the future, » said Letun.

Right now, Pacific Rim Brands is working on getting the specific formulations for these products. Once that’s completed, the company expects to start human testing to gather data. Essentially, the company is aiming to have formulations ready and approved this summer.

« Then, our goal is to look to either license these to existing beverage companies, potentially licensed producers or even develop our own brands, » said Letun.

When the legal recreational market opened on Oct. 17, 2018, stores like this one in NWT quickly sold out of product. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

Letun said edibles will prove to be a much larger segment of the industry than the current smokeable pot.

« In the next ten years, you’re going to see the smokeable cannabis (comprising) maybe only 10 to 20 per cent of the market, » he said.

He expects edibles and infused drinks will take off once legalized. And he said that will go well beyond cannabis-infused beer and wine.

« There are so many other applications on the medicinal side too, when it comes to sleep aids or sports recovery when it comes to inflammation, pain, sports recovery. »

Public consultations into the legalization of edible cannabis are open now and are expected to conclude at the end of February. As rules become more clear, the summer will see another surge on demand as companies look to get products ready for a market expected to open up on October 17.

It has only been three months since cannabis was legalized in Canada. There’s something to be said for the fact that the highest profile issue to stem from such an enormous change in drug policy is a lack of supply.

That issue is moving toward resolution, perhaps more slowly than expected. 

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For Andre Springer, Hot Sauce Is Just One Part of a Drag Queen’s Show | Healthyish

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In mid-October, the shared industrial kitchen and food incubator where Andre Springer produced and packaged his hot sauce was shut down without notice. His and more than 175 other businesses were left without a space to prepare their products. As Springer regroups, and puts a pause on sauce production, he’s launched a crowdfunding campaign to help fund his move to a new kitchen. You can learn more, and contribute here.

When Andre Springer made his first batch of hot sauce six years ago, there was some confusion. Springer, dressed as his drag alter-ego Shaquanda Coco Mulatta, was at Bushwig, Brooklyn’s annual drag festival. Beaming, curly hair tied up in a colorful bandana, nails painted cherry red, gold hoop earrings swinging, Shaquanda rolled a shopping cart full of sauce through the festival. “A lot of people there were asking me when I would perform,” Springer remembers, giggling. “I was like, ‘Right now. Open your hand, here’s a cracker.’ And I put some hot sauce on it.” And just like that, Shaquanda’s Hot Pepper Sauce was born.

Springer, now 36, began working at a gay bar in his early twenties, where he became friends with the resident drag queen. One night, when she was hosting her weekly Jeopardy game, she “asked me if I wanted to do drag,” he recalls. “And I was like, ‘Oh my god yes.’” Shaquanda was his first character. With her bandana and her apron, she was an homage to Springer’s grandmother, a cook in Barbados before she moved to New York.

Since then, Shaquanda has been a fixture in Brooklyn’s drag scene. She doesn’t perform on stage. Instead, she interacts with her audiences, dancing through the crowd, and pulling partygoers onto podiums to dance and sing with her. Springer first had the idea to add hot sauce to Shaquanda’s performance after a trip to Barbados six years ago. Wherever he went, he was greeted by some version of the peppery sauce, which his grandmother in New York poured over all of her food. He came back to New York with a plan to make his own sauce, one that would act as a unique expression of his identity as a queer Barbadian New Yorker.

Shaquanda's hot sauce 31102018 BA10985

Photo by Chelsea Kyle

A fiery jar of Shaquanda’s Hot Pepper Sauce.

He proudly describes the resulting sauce—a fiery mixture of vinegar, onions, and fresh peppers—as “a drag sauce.” Each bottle, wrapped in a bright red label, is emblazoned with Shaquanda’s face and a variety of sassy slogans: “Be the queen of your kitchen” and “Willing to please, eager to burn.”

“That imagery is me,” he says, picking up one of the bottles from the coffee table in his Bed-Stuy apartment. “It’s my face; it’s my history; it’s my culture. It’s who I am.” Each bottle is a way for Springer to share his Barbadian roots and bring his drag performance into spaces that often lack queer visibility. “For me, that is a performance in and of itself.”

Since Springer first peddled hot sauce at Bushwig six years ago, his business has grown. Now, he makes roughly 200 bottles of sauce a week in a Brooklyn commercial kitchen and distributes it to small shops in Bushwick and several in Manhattan. Making hundreds of bottles of sauce is a labor of love, but when Springer sells a bottle to a queer kid, or meets a woman named Shaquanda at the farmers’ market while he’s vending (it’s happened), it all seems worth it. “I’m a one-queen shop, and it’s hard doing all of these things,” he says. “But I want to see more queer visibility on the shelf. There’s so much you can do with advertising and packaging that can teach people to love each other and be accepting.”

Sometimes Springer looks in a shop’s window and, caught off guard, sees Shaquanda smiling back at him on a hot sauce bottle. In those moments, all of Springer’s work feels worth it. “Hey girl,” he’ll say through the window, blowing Shaquanda a kiss. “Who you goin’ home with today?”

Get on the waiting list for Shaquanda’s Hot Pepper Sauce here.

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