The Northwest Territories’s online cannabis store has seen only 604 users since legalization and lost $136,000 last fiscal year. It’s on track to lose the same amount or more in 2019-2020.
That’s despite a 44 per cent markup on all products sold in the online store — a profit margin which guarantees its prices are not competitive with black market vendors.
Since legalization, $3.9 million worth of legal cannabis has been sold in the territory. But just $57,664 of that — less than 1.5 per cent — was purchased online.
“The online store was established to ensure that NWT residents in all communities have access to safe and legal cannabis,” Todd Sasaki, a spokesperson for the territory’s Department of Finance, wrote in an email.
Currently, only five communities have legal brick-and-mortar cannabis vendors: Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Norman Wells and Yellowknife. All are liquor stores licensed by the territorial government.
But the cost of operating the online store is high — about $50,000 per quarter, according to Sasaki — and it cost nearly $300,000 to create.
Using numbers from last year’s annual report, that meant operating expenses amounted to nearly $260 per user. As of Wednesday, it offered just three varieties of cannabis.
“The [territorial government] remains committed [to] operating the online store, ensuring that residents in all communities have access to legal cannabis, until a viable option emerges,” Sasaki wrote.
Those high costs haven’t made a dent in the profits of the Northwest Territories Liquor and Cannabis Commission, which supplies all legal cannabis in the territory and operates the online store. It generated $23.5 million in profits last year.
‘Trade off’ between revenues and black market disruption
Michael Armstrong, a professor at Brock University’s Goodman School of Business and an expert on the cannabis trade, wasn’t surprised to hear the territory’s online store isn’t doing much business.
“We very quickly discovered that Canadian consumers preferred to buy in-store,” he said.
But Armstrong did say the average price in the store — $14.44, according to the N.W.T. Department of Finance — is high if the goal is disrupting the black market.
“If you have a fairly high price in the Northwest Territories … and $15 a gram certainly sounds high … that’s ultimately going to have a big, slowing effect on legal sales in your territory,” he said.
Statistics Canada estimates the black market price of cannabis at around $10 per gram across the country.