On August 5th a third-party distribution center in Ontario, Canada named Domain Logistics was subjected to a cyber attack that essentially crippled the company’s ability to deliver cannabis products to licensed retailers. Domain Logistics contracts with the provincial government in Ontario where all licensed outlets are required to purchase their cannabis from the government (Ontario Cannabis Store).
Had the cyber attack occurred in most other legal cannabis markets, it would have largely been an isolated incident and the fallout from the attack would have only affected a small percentage of cannabis businesses. However, being that every retailer must go through the Ontario Cannabis Store, and by extension, its vendors, the fallout from the cyber attack on August 5th spread across the province.
A Broken Monopoly Model
It is estimated that Ontario is home to roughly 1,333 licensed retailers. Some of the licensed outlets are part of large store chains while others are small, family-owned operations consisting of only one store. Of course, there are also cannabis companies that fall somewhere in between.
Regardless of their size, as previously mentioned in this article, every single licensed retail outlet has to go through the Ontario Cannabis Store since it has a monopoly on supplying inventory. Monopoly models rarely work, especially when the entity having the monopoly is the government and the product is cannabis which has to compete with an unregulated market.
In a monopoly cannabis model, it only takes one hiccup anywhere in the supply chain to largely bring the regulated cannabis industry in that market to a grinding halt. That is on full display in Ontario where licensed retailers received no cannabis product deliveries for roughly a week. Even with deliveries finally resuming, many retailers are still experiencing bare shelves.
The Need For Further Reform
The main lesson from this latest cyber attack in Ontario is that there need to be further reforms to help ensure that the regulated industry can effectively compete with the unregulated industry. The current model will always be vulnerable to all types of issues, not just cyber attacks, and it only takes one major issue to cause enormous damage to the regulated industry.
How many consumers and patients sought out unregulated sources for cannabis due to the halt in deliveries in Ontario? We may never know the actual number, however, it’s a safe bet that it was a considerable percentage of people that would have otherwise made their purchases from regulated sources, and that is unacceptable.
Regulated outlets have a hard enough time competing with the unregulated market being that the unregulated market requires considerably less overhead to operate. After licensing fees, facility rental fees, security costs, and everything else that goes into running a legal cannabis business regulated outlets are already at a distinct disadvantage compared to unregulated sources. Ontario keeping its current model, and the hiccups and issues that come with it, all but ensure that the unregulated market in Ontario will continue to thrive, and that’s unfortunate considering that things don’t have to be that way.