The marijuana market could be (and possibly already is) bigger than the market for beer in Canada
Pot’s retail therapy
TORONTO — It’s a hot, sunny Thursday afternoon on the hard edge of Queen Street West, and the foot traffic at Eden, a pot dispensary, is brisk.
Retailers along this strip of trendy clothing stores, bars, restaurants, shoe shops, tattoo parlours, hairstylists, comic stores and coffee joints cater to the urban hip, and Eden is no different. lnside, iceberg-blue lights illuminate jewel-case cabinets with the product — glass vials of Hindu Kush, El Hefe, Organic Blue Dream — artfully displayed.
On the aquamarine-blue wall at the front are two white iPads, for customers who need quick access to the Internet to check product information.
The place is spotless, sharp. And the air is heavy with the unmistakeable sweet smell of cannabis.
Behind the counter, two clerks, a man and a woman both in their 20s, both dressed like their customers, are filling orders, taking cash.
The average transaction, those in the business say, is $50. A pre-rolled joint is $12, but Alicia, the manager, says they won’t start selling a lot of those until the evening, when the university crowd and the kids from the suburbs come downtown.
The afternoonwalk-ins are largely cannabis users who rely on the flowers, ointments, teas, and oils to ease some chronic ailment, or they are creative types — writers, graphics artists, filmmakers — who find extra insight and energy through cannabinoid stimulation. They all have prescriptions from a licensed physician.
The product mix and retail approach at Eden’s downtown store is different than what you will find at the company’s newest outlet a few blocks north near Bayview and Eglinton. There are more seniors and aging baby boomers in that neighbourhood so the store opens earlier and closes earlier.
The Eden outlets are among the 100 or so pot dispensaries in Toronto, but there is easily demand, those in the industry say, for 1,000 such businesses.
They are owned and operated by a mix of campaigners and capitalists.
The campaigners have been working for years to legalize marijuana use. They believe in the huge potential for the drug to manage pain, ease anxiety, and help many to a more productive, happy, creative and healthy existence.
Tania Cyalume and Brandy Zurborg opened their storefront dispensary, Queens of Cannabis, on Bloor Street West just north of Little Italy in February.
“I guess when you believe in a product, you really believe in it because you’ve seen the way that it affects people,” said Cyalume.
The products Cyalume and Zurborg sell and their approach to retailing match their personal philosophies and lifestyles. Both are vegans, and the edible cannabis products they stock are vegan and pesticide-free.
Their crusade is about serving patients because they are patients themselves, and use cannabis products regularly to treat their own chronic pain and ailments.
“We’re patients and we believe in it. We also believe that patients have the first right to access before recreational. There is only so much supply, and there is a huge demand,” said Zurborg, who trained as a certified management accountant designation and was an auditor with the Canada Revenue Agency.
Their goal is not necessarily to get rich. They speak of one day being able to use the proceeds of their retail operation to help fund outreach, at hospices for example, where they can spread the word about the life-changing value of cannabis products.
Marina, who preferred her last name not be used, is a capitalist. She and her husband have had as many as seven dispensaries, some through a franchise model they were trying to build. When she got into the business a few years ago, she approached with a capitalist’s zeal and eye for profit.
The woman has agreed to talk about her industry at an upscale diner set among the forest of steel-and-glass condominium towers where Lake Ontario meets the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. She arrived in a gleaming white SUV. Petite, direct and energetic, Marina makes no bones about the fact she got into the business to make a pile of cash.
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