[Edmonton Journal] Cannabis vape supply could be disrupted by coronavirus
Just as the uncertainty over cannabis vapes had lifted in Alberta come fears the novel coronavirus could disrupt the marijuana industry's supply chain.
Distributors and retailers say they've been told travel restrictions to fight the spread of the deadly virus in China and the resulting closures of factories where almost all vaping hardware is produced could eventually put a crimp in local inventories.
That includes the cartridges that contain the vaping product, the batteries that heat them and the vapourizers themselves.
"It's really hard to get your hands on the 510 batteries manufactured in China right now because of the coronavirus," said Mack Andrews, owner of the Aylmer Nelson Cannabis store in southeast Calgary.
"Suppliers are having a hard time meeting demand."
Andrews said his store ordered a good-sized stock of the batteries well before the crisis in China, but he added: "I'm not sure every store would have had that luck."
It's not certain how long his own store's supply of the rechargeable batteries will last once vape cartridges go on sale Monday "because it's a brand new product," he said.
His store and others are preparing to receive their first orders of cannabis vape cartridges after the province completed a review of their safety and notified retailers Feb. 7 approval would go ahead.
"There'll be some stores able to sell the cartridges but won't have batteries," said Andrews.
A spokesman for Alberta cannabis retailers and licensed producers said members he's contacted aren't overly concerned.
"As of yet, we have seen no significant challenges - we don't really have fact-based assessments we can make," said Nathan Mison, executive director of the Alberta Cannabis Council.
And the staffer of another store said customers and retailers have stocked up for months on vaping supplies and accessories that would likely carry them through any disruption.
"It's maybe a concern in the future, but it's all stuff that's been here for a long time," said Beau Gaebel of Queen of Bud in southwest Calgary.
When the first vaping cartridges arrive at his store on Monday, Gaebel said he fully expects them to be a huge hit.
"We'll sell out that day," he said.
Some U.S.-based distributors say that product popularity could lead to supply shortages and they're worried about the timing of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The virus struck at the height of the Lunar New Year holiday, which was extended in China in an effort to prevent further spread of the disease. This, in turn, delayed the return of workers to factories, disrupting delivery schedules.
The spokesman for a manufacturer-distributor said there is concern about the virus's impact, at least down the road.
"You don't forecast this happening, we've tried to protect our partners and licensed producers," said Gerry Tissenbaum of Jupiter Research.
"Do I think there'll be a supply disruption? I hope not because we're at the stage where we want to grow the business."
He said his company is in "a holding pattern to see if the factories come back" following the Lunar New Year in China.
And he noted production disruptions in China impact a huge variety of products far beyond vaping hardware.
But for now, said Tissenbaum, Jupiter's product stock in North America is deep.
"We brought a large inventory into our warehouses in Canada and the U.S.," said Tissenbaum.
That uncertainty also comes at a time when doubts about the safety of vaping products have yet to be totally dispelled, following a number of illnesses and deaths across North America.
But Tissenbaum said the industry is in a good position to market the products under a safe, government-regulated umbrella.
"For more (newer consumers) who want to try cannabis, will know the legal process is the way to go," he said.
"It's as safe as anything can be."
The focus on vaping illnesses has fallen on unregulated products with vitamin E acetate additive seen as a prime culprit.[email protected] @BillKaufmannjrn
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