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A year after cannabis legalization, Calgary has more than just a budding weed industry
CALGARY — The lineup of customers at Nova Cannabis in Willow Park doesn’t spill outside and wrap around the building like it did on Oct. 17, 2018, but, as one of Calgary’s original pot shops, business is still steady.
Nova was one of only two stores to open in the city on legalization day. Since then, Calgary has approved licensing for dozens more retail stores and Albertans have consumed more than $120 million dollars worth of legal weed.
"We’d love to have four to six-hour lineups, but it’s just not what we expected," said Kristine Arcand of Alcanna Inc., the company that owns Nova Cannabis. "It’s steady from a traffic perspective."
Alberta has 306 retailers licensed to sell cannabis through Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC), the provincial government’s agency overseeing cannabis sales, though not all are operating yet.
Calgary has the most licensed retailers in the province, with 65 stores given the provincial green light. That number will continue to climb as more of the 225 city-approved retailers make it through the province’s approval process.
Higher competition also means companies have had to evolve to attract customers.
"We’ve had to be quite a nimble organization to react to the market," Arcand said.
Calgary is not restricting the number of retail pot shops. Opting for a "business first" approach to retail licensing, the City of Calgary isn’t limiting the number of stores it will approve.
"We as a municipality are not looking at a cap," said Matt Zabloski with the city. "We’ve allowed the market to sort itself out."
Officials believe the high number of retailers in the province is one of the factors as to why so many Albertans reported consuming cannabis since last October.
A survey from Statistics Canada shows 20 per cent of Albertans over the age of 15 have consumed some form of weed. The national average of cannabis consumption is 16 per cent. Nova Scotia leads the country with 24 per cent of respondents consuming the drug.
But the first 12 months of legalization hasn’t been all smooth sailing.
Supply issues forced the AGLC to put a moratorium on license approvals for several months, and even now retailers say they can’t order enough of some products to keep the shelves stocked.
"We don’t anticipate problems going forward," said Dave Berry with the AGLC, adding the province now has contracts with 33 suppliers.
Edible cannabis is now legal but don’t expect to see it on shelves soon.
Thursday marks the first day cannabis edibles, extracts and topical products are legal in Canada but regulatory hurdles means the first time Canadians will be able to purchase products is still months away.
Producers of cannabis edibles still have to go through Health Canada’s approval process, which is 60 days.
"Folks aren’t likely to see much of anything until near the new year, and there will be a slow uptick in producers," Berry said. "We expect very limited supply initially and producers will grow over time."
In a market that’s proven to have a large customer base but ample competition, retailers are itching to be able to sell the new range of products.
"We’re ready to welcome that new consumer that’s not wanting to smoke but is more interested in maybe trying a beverage or an edible," Arcand said.