They used to roll joints by hand!
If you smoked weed in Quebec in 2018, you probably remember the first wave of legal joints. A little uneven, sometimes too tight or too loose — surprisingly inconsistent, especially considering their regulation-happy government origins. But there's a good reason for this: every single early SQDC joint was rolled by hand. In fact, this practice continued into mid-2020.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
This is just one of the revelations shared with MTL Blog by longtime SQDC executive Geneviève Giroux.
Giroux has been working at the SQDC since its inception in 2018 when Canada legalized recreational cannabis nationwide. Over the last four years, she has worked – despite a provincial ban on cannabis marketing of any kind — to bring black market customers to the government supplier.
Giroux is the vice president of demand and product management. Her portfolio includes communicating with suppliers and selecting which products will be legally available to the cannabis-consuming public in Quebec. Her long tenure meant she was also involved in the earliest, critical decisions about how the SQDC would function.
Here are some of the weirdest, most surprising things we learned about the SQDC, from someone who helped create it.
Building a supplier base and keeping up with demand was a big struggle at the beginning, Giroux told MTL Blog in an interview at the SQDC's headquarters in Montreal.
Longtime stoners certainly remember the infamous shortages at the beginning of the SQDC's existence, but fewer understand why they happened.
The factors that made the early days of the SQDC so chaotic are also what drew Giroux into the industry in the first place: building a government organization from the ground up is exciting work. And unlike the longstanding alcohol industry that birthed the SAQ, cannabis is a largely homemade, actively growing market.
"The difference between an artisanal culture and a culture of mass consumption is extreme," Giroux explained. The SQDC team had to build up a bank of trustworthy suppliers while also creating the infrastructures for selling and distributing cannabis from scratch.
The burgeoning SQDC's desire to provide as much variety as possible clashed with a lack of manufacturing infrastructure, creating what Giroux termed a "bottleneck" in the early days. But as the industry began to stabilize, with more producers entering the arena and more infrastructure to support them, shortages faded into the past.
At First, SQDC Joints Were Mostly Rolled By Hand
The team had to think about everything that goes into listing new products for sale, down to the most granular details. "How many units per case? What kind of bar codes will we use? What prices should we be using? We had all of this to think about and create," Giroux said.
Once those decisions were finalized, the work was far from over, and much of it was done by hand.
Between 2018 and early 2020, the vast majority of suppliers filled, weighed, labelled, and sealed each individual container of cannabis by hand.
"Joints were all handmade, too," Giroux added.
Marketing Cannabis Is Illegal, But Using LinkedIn Helps The SQDC Generate Buzz
Quebec’s cannabis legislation is stricter than that in most other provinces, including a total ban on marketing cannabis products to consumers.
This means the SQDC must rely on other tactics to attract customers. Instead of directly advertising their products, the SQDC can gently promote new store openings and associated jobs.
“We sometimes use LinkedIn posts to factually describe” new store openings in new cities, Giroux said, which can spread the word without promoting drug use. “We have these word-of-mouth systems that develop,” Giroux added. “Often, it’s the customers themselves who talk about it.”
Police Data On Illegal Activities Helps Determine What's On SQDC Shelves.
Being a government organization, the SQDC has a lot of access to what Giroux called "stakeholders," who are able to share data about the public's cannabis habits. These stakeholders include police departments, who Giroux says provide key information about what's happening "in the streets" so the SQDC can move accordingly.
With this data and the continued participation of producers, the SQDC offers a wide range of products, including a limited range of edibles and drinkables.
Giroux says the government dealer has managed to capture more than 50% of the black market demand for weed. "We're very proud of that," she smiled, "but we have to evolve as the black market evolves."
Black Market Weed Is Often Stronger, But Less Regulated
For cannabis enthusiasts, this is a bit of a no-brainer. Non-government weed is often quite strong, since it’s not covered by the regulations that require SQDC products to contain less than 30% THC. Giroux says they still manage to convince consumers to make the switch.
“We’re able to make recommendations and explain, you can still get the effects you want, even at percentages lower than 30%,” she said. “So we’re able to offer a safer product, without reaching these super high potencies.”
Of course, not everyone is willing to make the switch. But with 50% of black market demand captured, according to Giroux, the SQDC is certainly making progress.
The SQDC Keeps Tabs On Social Media To Track What People Want
The SQDC tracks demand through surveys and carefully monitored social media pages, including the bustling SQDC Reddit, where consumers share detailed reviews and desires directly with the organization.
The SQDC also runs polls to gauge consumer sentiment and habits related to cannabis. There are also social media groups, like Spotted SQDC on Facebook, where customers share their experiences, likes and dislikes.
"We got in contact with the administrator of the group and asked anyone who would be comfortable to come talk to the SQDC," Giroux explained.
They asked questions about people’s experiences buying from the SQDC and got feedback from the public in this way.
MTL Blog does not condone the overconsumption of cannabis. If you're going to consume cannabis, please do so responsibly and only if you’re of legal age.