Ontario Cannabis Store releases first annual report covering legalization

The government-owned Ontario Cannabis Store released its first annual report covering the period marijuana was legalized in Canada, roughly 17 months ago, for a fiscal year that started almost two years ago.

The report for the April 2018 to March 2019 period was issued almost a full calendar year after the agency’s fiscal year concluded.

Experts say the delay is not helpful because of the pivotal role the OCS plays in the industry as the monopoly wholesaler and online retailer.

“Our business continued to evolve over the past year, and we anticipate delivery of these reports in a more timely manner going forward,” OCS Communications Director Daffyd Roderick said in a statement to Marijuana Business Daily.

It was a tumultuous year for the OCS.

In mid-2018, the Ontario government scrapped its plan to roll out a network of government-owned cannabis stores, opting instead for a limited number of privately owned outlets. The OCS maintained control over wholesale and online sales.

As a result of the pivot, the agency took a hit of 9 million Canadian dollars ($6.7 million) after terminating four store leases.

That contributed to a loss of almost CA$50 million in the OCS’ first two years of operation, according to financial statements released in 2018 and 2019.

OCS sales through March 2019 were weak because it had a small number of physical stores to wholesale for and its online business got off to a rocky start.

The latest annual report includes a statement from CEO Cal Bricker.

“In the last year, our organization has had to quickly transition in the short term, while also looking ahead to prepare for future business needs,” Bricker, who took over as CEO last September, wrote in the report.

“The OCS has balanced pivoting to changing marketing conditions while keeping a keen eye on our strategic vision for the future,” Bricker wrote, adding that the agency established business partnerships with logistics provider Domain Logistics and e-commerce platform provider Shopify.

The annual report identifies, for the first time, the agency’s strategic objectives.

“Over the past year (April 2018 to March 2019), the OCS has been guided by a series of core strategic objectives,” it says. Those are:

  1. Converting consumers from the illegal market.
  2. Operating an education-first platform.
  3. Delivering value for Ontario taxpayers.
  4. Offering a broad assortment of quality-tested cannabis products.

The OCS is currently developing a long-term strategic framework.

“Establishing a long-term strategic direction will help guide the organization in navigating future challenges and opportunities in the sector,” the report notes.

“The strategic plan will also implant a corporate planning process to ensure that the agency is delivering on its commitments and achieving its targets, while working to continue to build a trusted legal cannabis marketplace for Ontarians.”

Michael Armstrong, business professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, would like to see the OCS follow Cannabis NB’s lead by releasing quarterly summaries.

“It’s important for industry to know how the cannabis sector is progressing in Ontario, because it’s the biggest market,” he said.

“It’s important for retailers and potential retailers, who have to do business with the OCS, to know what’s going on.

“It’s important for the general public, the taxpayers who are footing the bill for the OCS, and the voters, through the government, who have given the OCS a legal monopoly on wholesale.

“In exchange for that monopoly, we should get a lot more information.”

It’s the second yearly report the OCS has released since it was created. The first covered April 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018.

The latest report is available here.

Matt Lamers is Marijuana Business Daily’s international editor, based near Toronto. He can be reached at mattl@mjbizdaily.com.