The Ontario government is coming under fire for delays in the delivery of legal cannabis in the province, with critics suggesting consumers could revert back to the black market.
Just over a week after recreational marijuana became legal, the provincially-run Ontario Cannabis Store website is warning consumers that delivery times for their orders may be longer than expected due to "extremely high demand" and labour action at Canada Post.
Unionized Canada Post employees began rotating strikes this week and nearly 9,000 members walked off the job in the Toronto region on Tuesday.
The Toronto-area members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers returned to work at midnight Thursday but the work stoppage at two facilities forced delays in shipments of tens of thousands of letters and parcels across the country.
Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said earlier this week that the government had a backup plan to ensure timely deliveries of cannabis, but said Thursday that the plan would only be implemented in the case of a general strike. He again declined to give details of the plan.
Opposition parties, meanwhile, made claims that the difficulties in accessing legal recreational cannabis could encourage some users to turn to illegal suppliers.
"People who aren't getting their cannabis, they're going to the black market," said NDP legislator Kevin Yarde. "That's what's happening, and that's something that we don't want to happen."
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said some of his constituents have complained about the delivery delays.
"People ... are going back to dispensaries and the government's going to have to deliver on the commitment to make sure that it's available and accessible to people if they're going to be successful in combating the illegal market," he said.
Fraser suggested the government's reluctance to lay out its contingency plan means "they don't have one."
The online Ontario Cannabis Store is currently the only legal retailer of weed in the province. Private retail brick-and-mortar stores are set to open in April next year.
Fedeli said the Ontario Cannabis Store fielded more online orders in its first 24 hours than all the other provinces put together and would be continuing to fulfil those orders.
"We're continuing to use Canada Post throughout the rotating strikes and if they go to a general strike, we'll go to Plan B. But we are encouraging the federal government to continue working with Canada Post to bring this to a resolution," he said. "We won't be discussing what our Plan B is."
Toronto police said Monday that 11 unlicensed marijuana dispensaries had been shut down in the city since recreational cannabis became legal.