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Industry growing like a weed

COVID-19 has proved to be a key factor in improving
cannabis sales in the Alberta capital

Cannabis stores like Spiritleaf are reporting that the pandemic has boosted their sales. (Ben Hollihan)

By Preston Hodgkinson

Taking a quick walk around downtown Edmonton in 2021 highlights a wide array of differences that have transpired in the city over the past three years. The most obvious, of course, have been the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are wearing masks and adhering to social-distance guidelines more than ever. Yet, one thing that has been overshadowed by the pandemic has been the exponential growth of cannabis shops within the city. 

It has been almost 2 1/2 years since the Canadian government legalized the use of recreational cannabis. The drug – the subject of a decades-long battle for legalization – has enveloped the city, as cannabis shops have increased from just 11 on the day of legalization to 120 today. This incredible stat shows that the demand for legal weed remains high, despite the pandemic making shopping difficult.

Siobhan Williams, an assistant manager at a North Edmonton cannabis shop, spoke about how the cannabis industry has changed over its short legal lifespan. 

‘The types of customers have changed
and what they are buying has definitely changed’

“Customer behaviour has changed, in the fact that way more people are willing to spend money on the legal market than they are on the illicit market,” she said. “The types of customers have changed and what they are buying has definitely changed.”

The legalization of cannabis has not come without drawbacks. The only things that were allowed to be sold on the onset of legalization were dried flower, oil and seeds. Since then, the government has added many products, such as chocolates, gummies, hashish and beverages, to the fold.

“They wanted to start people on lower-dose products,” Williams said. “We currently still have a cap on edibles at 10mg of THC per package, which can be frustrating for a lot of legacy users.”

While many shops are still awaiting fewer restrictions on higher-dose products, it seems as though the industry has only grown during the pandemic. With people being stuck at home and having nothing to do, more and more are choosing cannabis as a way to deal with isolation. 

People that weren’t using it before are using more
because they got nothing better to do

“The pandemic has definitely helped,” Williams said. “People that weren’t using it before are using more because they got nothing better to do at home.” 

Even with the pandemic helping the industry, there is still the question of how a store can survive with so much competition. We have seen the same done with liquor stores in the province but, with cannabis being such a new industry, there are doubts it can be as sustainable. 

“With so many stores, people like to choose their mom-and-pop shops and their name brands because not all stores carry the same stuff,” Williams said. “I think a lot of companies can stay alive based on them carrying products others aren’t willing to buy. Whether that’s the more expensive products or the cheap stuff that they can sell a lot of.” 

It doesn’t look like we are heading toward any sort of mass shutdown of cannabis shops here in Edmonton. Statista reported that Alberta cannabis sales grew from $33 million in February 2020 to $51 million in July 2020. An incredible increase over a span of just six months. 

No one can predict the future of cannabis in Edmonton after the pandemic, but, if these statistics are any indicator, it appears to be bright. 

“As the pandemic slows down, more people are going to be outside and going to bars … I don’t think cannabis will struggle coming out of COVID, because there will be a lot more people using cannabis in a more social way.” 

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