Quebec’s crown monopoly cannabis retailer, the Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC), scaled back plans to continue expanding its retail offerings to 150 stores across the province of 8.5 million, saying last week, “As of today, our objective is to reach roughly a hundred points of sale within the next three years.”
At the moment, the SQDC offers 33 retail storefronts across Quebec (that number will become 34 on Monday as a new store opens in the Gaspé peninsula), with a plan to open seven more for a total of 40 by March.
Last May, SQDC CEO Jean-François Bergeron said he intended to open “110 to 150 outlets over the long term.” However, in a call for tenders released in December, the SQDC dramatically reduced that number, saying they only planned to open 56 new stores over the next three years.
In particular, he said, stores would be apportioned among “urban centres of each administrative region”—meaning Montreal, with one fifth of Quebec’s population, is due to receive an additional 15 stores, while Montreal’s North Shore suburb Laval (itself boasting 5% of the provincial population) will get five more.
At present, there are four SQDC stores on the Island of Montreal, as well as three stores in off-island suburbs (with none in Laval). Other stores are slated to open in the Quebec City area, and in Montérégie, comprising Montreal’s more distant South Shore suburbs as well as communities of the Eastern Townships region.
It is unclear whether Quebec’s decision to raise the legal age for cannabis from 18 to 21 had any effect on the lowering of the projected number of stores. As well, Quebec is releasing a dramatically truncated array of Cannabis 2.0 products, offering no vape pens and no edibles beyond—to date—CBD-infused tea-bags to begin with.
Unlike the troubled crown retail monopoly in New Brunswick, and Ontario’s ongoing struggle with its monopoly on wholesale and online orders, the SQDC has been a peculiar success.
It was among the early retailers to return to business-as-usual as the supply shortage eased last spring, and while Ontario and New Brunswick posted serious losses, SQDC CEO Bergeron predicted the agency would begin paying dividends back to the province in 2020. The SQDC posted its first profit in the first quarter of its second year.
Yet, though Quebec consumers prefer the illicit market, those who buy from the SQDC have generally expressed satisfaction with the corporation. Used to buying liquor and fine wines from crown monopoly spirits retailer the Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ), and surprisingly canna-skeptical, Quebeckers may find comfort in a no-frills government retailer.
Or they may just like that the SQDC offers some of the country’s lowest prices on legal cannabis.
Not everything at the SQDC has been rosy: due to the small number of retail locations, SQDC stores have been plagued with long lines across Quebec. In October, Bergeron told the Montreal Gazette, “Queues are not good. Good stores run without queues. We have worked a lot to get rid of these queues; they’re not good for our image.”
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