The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses across the province to alter the way they operate. Restaurants have had to pivot to curbside delivery, grocery stores have had to limit their capacity and some other shops have had to simply close down.
These are all challenges cannabis shops have had to face as well. Yet, while many businesses are hopeful to get their profits back to normal after the pandemic, cannabis shops hope to see their sales continue to grow.
Cannabis in Alberta has seen significant growth since the pandemic first hit in March 2020. Sales of the drug skyrocketed from $33 million in February 2020 to $51 million just six months later in July.
Spencer Murray, an 22-year old University of Alberta student, has been an avid cannabis user since legalization and says isolation brought on by the pandemic has given him more time to smoke.
“When I have nothing to do, I often just smoke a bowl,” said Murray. “The pandemic has been stressful and smoking has helped to alleviate a lot of that stress.”
Sales of cannabis in Alberta have dropped a little in 2021, but overall remain strong.
Clair's Cannabis in Edmonton opened up at the onset of the pandemic. Owner Heather Clair says while business has been good over the past year, they expect it to be busier once everything goes back to normal.
“I would think that once the pandemic is gone and a lot more people are back to work, it should be busier,” said Clair. “People will have more of a disposable income for recreational purposes like cannabis.”
The lessening of stigma around cannabis is also one reason sales have been up. The notion that the drug is a gateway to much harder substances has broken down in recent years as more Canadians have become educated about the drug.
“I think a lot of people are getting more educated on cannabis products,” said Clair. “It is evolving in that it is more accepted in the public view.”
There is another problem budding as more and more people flock to cannabis: competition. Cannabis stores have popped up all over Edmonton and that's making it hard for many shops to stay competitive.
Karl Karanjia, the owner of another local cannabis shop named Strainbows, said the City of Edmonton has been very supportive of handing out licences to open shops, and that has created a boom in competition.
The Alberta Game and Liquor Commission (AGLC) is responsible for handing out licences. Right now, the current price to apply for a cannabis shop licence is $400 while the actual license is $700 for an overall expense of $1,100, a few hundred dollars more than what it costs to open up a retail liquor store.
There are currently over 120 cannabis stores in Edmonton. Despite this, Karanjia says he still finds a lot of joy in owning a cannabis shop.
“It is exactly what me and my brother like to do and we enjoy being here,” said Karanjia. “I enjoy working with cannabis in any form, whether it be growing, selling or the research and information part.”