Cannabis-related complaints to Ontario’s Ombudsman lowest since legalization

| David Brown

Ontario’s Ombudsman reports a near-record number of complaints in its recent 2023-2024 report, but a record-low amount of issues related to the province’s cannabis industry.

The majority of cannabis-related cases heard by the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario were connected to the Ontario Cannabis Store, or OCS.

Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé’s ninth Annual Report, released on June 26, says the organization only heard six cases related to the OCS in 2023-2024, down from 18 in the previous year and 2,411 in the first year of legalization. 

The Ombudsman’s report at the time said that most of these were quickly resolved, helping the OCS and its partners like Canada Post address “serious service gaps.”

In fiscal 2019-2020, following the first year of legalization, OCS-related complaints dropped significantly to just 49. In that same year, the Ontario Ombudsman also received 16 complaints related to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s (AGCO) process for granting licences, as well as other retail sales matters. The Ombudsman’s report says these were resolved by referral to the AGCO’s complaint and appeal processes.

In the following year, 2020-2021, Ontario’s Ombudsman heard 20 cases related to the OCS, and a case where a quorum of council for the Town of Pelham, Ontario, “decided over email not to accept a donation from a cannabis producer,” and that the “Ombudsman found this was wrong and contrary to law, as municipalities are only permitted to make decisions by by-law or resolution.”

Then, in 2021-2022, the organization heard 31 cases about the Ontario Cannabis Store, mostly customer service-related. One of these cases involved a woman who reached out to the Ombudsman after spending several weeks trying to get a refund for an OCS order she had placed that had been destroyed when a postal truck caught fire. 

In 2022-2023, the Ombudsman’s office received 18 complaints about the Ontario Cannabis Store, and just six in 2023-2024, out of 27,030 complaints and inquiries total. Over half (57%) of these were addressed in two weeks or less. The Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario says this near-record total case volume is up 10% from the previous year and is among the office’s highest in decades—surpassed only by 2018-2019’s total of 27,419.

Ashley Bursey, manager of communications for the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario says that while the organization cannot reveal the details of any specific complaints due to confidentiality requirements, it often addresses cases related to the Ontario Cannabis Store in regard to delays, customer service, concerns about product quality, or billing issues. She also says that all six of cases mentioned in their most recent annual report have been closed.

“We receive relatively few complaints about the OCS each year, with the exception of 2018-2019, the year the OCS began online retail operations, where it was our single most-complained-about organization,” Bursey tells StratCann. “That year, we received 2,411 cases about the OCS and we established a dedicated team to triage and prioritize these complaints, working collaboratively with senior staff at OCS and the Ministry of Finance.

“Among the issues we identified (including delays, product quality concerns, and customer service issues) was a serious privacy breach involving Canada Post’s online tracking portal, which allowed anyone to see the name and address of an OCS customer if they had a tracking number; this was quickly rectified.”

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