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Cannabis 2.0 products can’t compete with black market prices, experts say


January 6, 2020
By The Canadian Press

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The latest generation of cannabis products will be available for legal sale in Ontario starting Jan. 6.

The Ontario Cannabis Store is releasing 59 new products, including edibles, beverages, lotions and concentrates. The products will be available on the shelves of physical retail stores starting today and will go on sale online on Jan. 16.

However, the arrival of legal cannabis edibles, vapes and other products in Ontario won’t necessarily meet the government’s stated goal of cutting into the black market, according to industry observers.

Those keeping an eye on Canada’s burgeoning cannabis industry said a combination of federal health regulations and Ontario’s own track record around product prices may fail to make the legal wares as enticing as alternatives still readily available through illicit channels.

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“I know the OCS wants to move towards a thousand stores, but eventually you’re going to have to have a thousand people willing to participate in the legal market,” said Omar Khan, national cannabis sector lead with Hill+Knowlton Strategies. “They’ll only do that if they can be price-competitive with the illicit market.”

For its part, the OCS argues that its new slate of products can cut into black market sales. Edibles will cost between $7 and $14, beverages are priced at between $4 and $10, vape products will sell for between $25 and $125, topicals will be available for between $15 and $55, and concentrates are expected to sell for between $30 and $70.

“We’ve compared our offerings to similar products in the illegal market to ensure that our initial retail will be competitive,” OCS Senior Director of Merchandising Kevin Lam said when the new products were unveiled last week.

But Michael Armstrong, an associate business professor at Brock University who analyzes cannabis market data, said Ontario has a history of pricing products on the higher end of the spectrum.

Numbers he calculated after the first six months of legalization suggested Ontario implemented a 70 per cent markup on goods available at the time. That figure, while shy of the 90 per cent markup seen in Newfoundland, was also well above rates set in other provinces such as Quebec and New Brunswick.

Federal records show that Ontario’s current cannabis excise tax of about 11.4 per cent also falls in the top half of the national range, though considerably lower than jurisdictions such as Alberta and Nunavut.

Armstrong cautioned, however, that assessing prices on edibles is more complex than comparing costs of raw cannabis products.

He said producers will be working hard to distinguish themselves and their offerings through quality control, formulation and other factors, noting some consumers may well prove willing to pay a premium for what they perceive to be a better product.

That quality issue, he said, may prove fruitful in combating illicit sales even if prices stay high.

“The producers are hoping that these new products are going to allow them to differentiate themselves,” Armstrong said. “If they can come up with a cookie or a tea that people really like, then they can charge a higher price than the black market and still attract customers.”