British Columbia will house all cannabis sold in its legal retail system at a new warehouse in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond and its online portal for marijuana products will use the sales platform of Canadian e-commerce giant Shopify Inc.
The province, long home to the country’s largest illicit cannabis market, announced the moves Friday as it rolled out its plans for supplying quantities of the drug to consumers starting Oct. 17, the date Ottawa has said it will officially end 95 years of cannabis prohibition. B.C. has yet to unveil a licensing framework for the mix of public and private retailers that will end up selling cannabis in stores across the province.
The province said it is building a distribution centre in a 6,500-square-metre facility in Richmond that will eventually employ 130 workers and also house a customer-service centre.
The Liquor Distribution Branch, which will be the sole wholesale distributor and public retailer of cannabis, says the Ottawa-based company Shopify was selected because of its proven record of on-time service, user-friendly design and approach to anticipating consumer needs.
Loren Padelford, vice-president and general manager of Shopify, said his company has reached out to all provinces and territories to get their cannabis business, but only B.C. and Ontario have announced that these bids have been successful.
In February, Ontario, which is planning to have a public system of in-person and online cannabis sales, announced it would also use Shopify’s software to process internet sales and on tablets in its Ontario Cannabis Stores. Shopify will power the screens in brick-and-mortar stores that offer customers product and health information.
“We’re deep into this space at this point,” Mr. Padelford said Friday. “We’re in 175 countries and medical marijuana and cannabis is something that’s being looked at by a lot of jurisdictions and there’s a lot of producers around the world.”
In B.C., the company will create two separate websites to fulfill online orders: one for consumers, and another for private retail stores to verify the age of purchasers on the BC Cannabis Stores’ retail website. Couriers will also verify the age of buyers at delivery. At-store pickup of online orders is being considered.
Once cannabis is made legal, online sales might be as lucrative – or more so – as people already accustomed to shopping online look for a way to get the drug easily and, for the most part, anonymously. And in almost every province, provincial governments are keeping exclusive control of the online market – and the profit.
Ian Dawkins, a Vancouver-based cannabis consultant and president of the Cannabis Commerce Association of Canada, a trade group representing two dozen illicit dispensaries and growers looking to transition into the legal sector, said he is very worried that B.C.’s single-warehouse distribution system will not have the capacity to properly store and transport hundreds of kilograms of cannabis products to consumers before the dried flowers degrade in quality.
“When you’re sending fresh produce through the mail, you need to get that right and they don’t have any of the technical capacity to do it,” he said.
With a report from The Canadian Press