I remember it like it was yesterday, October 17th, 2018. The day that cannabis became recreationally legal in Canada, and 12 SQDCs (Cannabis Society of Quebec) opened up all across the province.
It took me a couple of months before stepping into one of these stores because of the crazy line-ups outside (since, you know….there were ONLY 12 open in the ENTIRE province).
My initial reaction was confusion. I’ve been to dispensaries in Los Angeles, to coffee shops in Amsterdam, and to illegal weed shops here in Canada, so yes, I had somewhat of an expectation. It wasn’t what I expected; walking into an SQDC felt like walking into a futuristic, depressing, hipster juice bar.
It’s ok, it’s because the government doesn’t allow retailers to “brand” themselves right? That’s what I kept telling myself, IT’S OK. It’s ok that this weed that I just bought looks like a 12-month-old, end-of-bag schwag. It’s OK, they will figure it out; fast-forward 2 years later, and they haven’t figured out anything.
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Who runs the SQDC? Is there some sort of passionate entrepreneur that decides that he will put in all his sweat, tears, and money into a dispensary, somebody that understands cannabis? Somebody that loves cannabis? Absolutely not.
The same people that are running these gigantic, mass-producing companies that are doing horribly in the eyes of consumers like Aurora and Canopy, are the same type of people that are running the SQDC, you know, suits.
In October 2019, 1 year after legalization, The Gazette (the biggest Montreal newspaper) had an interview with SQDC president and director Jean-François Bergeron about what future plans were going to be. These were the plans: reduce prices, eliminate lineups, bring in cannabis drinks and continue to take business away from the black market.
Do you guys see ANYTHING about quality in there whatsoever? (source) Most quotes from Mr. Bergeron sounded like this: “It’s all about migrating the black market in a secure and safe manner,” he said. “We did that well. We managed to get the right cost structure, and we are profitable today.”
In a new interview with La Presse, this is the title: $26 Million in profit for the SQDC. Again, Jean-Francois Bergeron talks about how they’re doing great, how much profit they made, etc. (source).
You know, the typical SUIT language….making profits, cutting black markets, cutting cues. PROFITS. Did I already say that? There is no passion, no expertise, which brings me to my next point.
UNDERPAID, INEXPERIENCED “BUDTENDERS”
Can you guess how much a budtender makes working at SQDC without googling it? Well, if you guessed $14/h, you got it right. Just to put it in perspective, a cashier at the SAQ (all governmental liquor stores in Quebec) makes $20.46/h to start; pretty big difference, isn’t it?
The majority of people that will accept to get such a salary are teens, so how did the interview go exactly?
What’s your experience with cannabis?
I have been smoking that loud, bruh!
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard one of these teenagers tell a potential client “this one is only $20 with 24% THC!! Great deal!” and that’s where it ends. These kids do not know any better themselves, so the advice they give isn’t good.
They do not mention terpenes, flavonoids, or how much percentage of indica/Sativa; they don’t know lineages, scents, or flavors. THEY DON’T ACTUALLY ASK ANY QUESTIONS. And honestly, they don’t actually get paid enough to know all these things; I don’t blame them.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Every customer, no matter where they are in QC, is getting the exact same low-quality products. Consumers don’t know that they’re getting a bad quality product because it’s better than what they’re used to, and for once in their life, they have choices.
They leave the SQDC believing that the 19-year-old budtender that just spoke to them is a cannabis genius, and they are now a satisfied customer; what about people like me, though?
I’m going to break this down to you in simpler terms because I’ve lived in this province for the past 25 years and because I know exactly how things work here.
- Mr. Lafleur is a middle-aged man.
- He’s been buying weed from Jean-Francois for a decade now, and Jean-Francois has had a total of 4 strains throughout this decade.
- Mr. Lafleur takes his first trip to the SQDC and TABARNAK!!! These people REALLY know what they’re doing; these kids are knowledgeable. Oh my god, cannabis heaven!
- Mr. Lafleur then tells his sister, his co-worker, his brother-in-law, and his best friend that the SQDC is the best thing on the planet, so they believe him, and they are now all satisfied SQDC customers.
There is no way for Mr. Lafleur to check out a couple of different dispensaries throughout the year and realize that wait a minute, SQDC has been selling me garbage.
Maybe I’ll keep going to XYZ Cannabis because they are way more knowledgeable, and their products are better. NOPE, absolutely not. You WILL go to the SQDC, Mr. Lafleur, because that’s just how it is; you can’t complain about them either because there’s nowhere else you can go.
I’ve been reviewing this bad weed that the SQDC sells me (yes, I actually PAY money to the SQDC, get garbage weed, then put in hours into taking pictures and reviewing garbage weed.
So pardon my frustration) for 8 months now, and the minute I stepped foot into The Medicine Box, which is a dispensary in Quebec on Kanesatake Lands, I was proven right. It reminded me of dispensaries in Los Angeles, and it proved to me once more that the SQDC is doing a horrible job.
Quebecois companies have the first dibs when it comes to providing products, so as I’m writing this, there are 19 different Hexo flower products on the website, just to compare, I’m seeing only 6 on the OCS. Quebec isn’t even getting the higher-rated products that the rest of Canada gets.
I asked Gage Cannabis and Muskoka Grown if we should be expecting any of their products in Quebec anytime soon, and their responses were? Nope. You can see the replies below (keep in mind, Gage’s Strawberry OG is one of the most highly rated strains I’ve seen, and we can’t get our hands on it because the SQDC wants Quebecer companies to fill their shelves.)
I’ve always preached patience when it comes to the legal cannabis industry because it’s brand new. The problem with Quebec is that the SQDC is run by the government, and 2 years in, I’m realizing that in Quebec, it’s not about patience.
Nothing is ever going to change here, this province loves to be a little different, and they’re doing the same thing with the cannabis industry. I’m sure that the SQDC is making more profit nowadays than it did when it just started. At the end of the day, it seems like that’s what’s most important to them.
What keeps happening is that knowledgeable pot consumers in the province don’t actually have anywhere else to go (not everyone knows about the reserves, and they’re an hour away), so they keep going to the SQDC to try different strains and different brands until they get something decent. That costs money, it’s expensive, and it’s kinda unfair.
Here are some examples of what SQDC customers are saying:
In the meantime, I will keep getting weed at the reserves, and road trips to Ontario dispensaries will become the norm, although, unfortunately, I will need to keep giving the SQDC my hard-earned money because of convenience.
This industry is different, and greed won’t work; passion will……except in Quebec, where greed always works.
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