Original Published on Sep 23, 2022 at 11:10

By Ryan Clarke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Cannabis has been a progressing market in Canada since legalization  back in October 2018, four years since the seeds have been sown and the  market has blossomed with deep roots in the lifestyles of many  Canadians.

From medical to recreational, cannabis has been  consumed by increasing numbers with awareness and acceptance growing  from the traditional outlooks of hippies and ganja.

“It’s a  growing market that has been growing since the day of legalization,  certainly a lot more since we’ve had enough product in the channel. I  would say we’re still experiencing double digit numbers year over year  in growth, which is a good thing. The future looks like it will continue  to grow, because we’ve done a great job in Alberta,” said Jay Shukle,  senior director of AGLC’s cannabis division. “We still believe there’s  opportunity for more growth. Some of this will be on the shoulders of  our Cannabis Act, which is legislated federally, if we get changes there  on phase-two products, which are our edibles, topicals, and beverages.  If we get regulation changes there, I think we’ll see some heightened  growth for sure.”

At the beginning of March 2022, Bill 80, the  Red Tape Reduction Implementation Act, passed in the legislature  privatizing the online sale of cannabis for private companies to sell  online, allowing another avenue for retailers to bring in revenue and  curb the illegal sales of the market.

AGLC works to curb the  illicit sales that disrupt the market through the regulation of approved  cannabis products for sale within licensed premises and works with  enforcement agencies in regards to unapproved cannabis products.

“There’s  a challenge, because if you are participating in the illicit market,  you might not necessarily come out and say it. So we need to have  research companies that use different methodologies to find out,” said  Shukle. “What we do is work with a number of different data points. We  work with Statistics Canada to get a holistic view on what the overall  size of the market is, both illegal and legal. Plus we have our  empirical numbers for what we sell through the legal market. Then we can  triangulate that way. We also have other data points who do a lot of  research on both illicit and legal cannabis. We work with the research  companies and their data to get a high-level view of what the market  size is and where we fit within them.”

Locally, stores like  Twenty Four Karats have seen a struggle since legalization began. Store  owner Ed Pan says his shop was one of the first legal stores to open  when cannabis was legalized, and the market has had issues from supply  to economic-warfare. Noting in the beginning stores had to struggle to  get product in because of a lack of cannabis, often selling out and  unable to keep returning customers satisfied. The business is now facing  new problems with “big-box-stores” that are franchised putting local  businesses out of work by dropping prices to lure clientele away from  the local retailer.

“At first, there was never enough  inventory. The government wasn’t prepared. They didn’t have enough legal  producers, growers to produce enough to service the community,” said  Pan. “We were struggling to get anything from the government, we were  getting small little pallets of maybe 30 boxes and trying to survive for  the week. It was hard. When the supplies started catching up, and they  allowed more licenses, so more license means more competition. More  competition means more struggle. We were, and still are, fighting for  clients. It’s an interesting turn, it looks like it’s finally stabilized  and then the big corporations come in and just drop prices and try to  squeeze out the little guy.”

For Pan, being local is about  surviving and making it work while fighting back at the franchised  stores, trying to bring customers more than a generic slogan, saying his  store offers programs like “Gold Membership” and deals to help compete.

“We’re  locally owned and operated. We offer discounts with our memberships,  because I know loyal customers will come back and keep buying. But when  big chain competitors can come in, see my pricing, and mark their  product down because they have the funds from stockholders. It hurts.  But I’ll hold out as long as I can,” said Pan.

Newcomers to  the industry will have an uphill battle to climb with the market still  budding after legalization. With the economy having its ups and downs  and the government working to protect the legal sale of cannabis the  factors are still developing for an infant industry.

This item reprinted with permission from   Lethbridge Herald    Lethbridge, Alberta
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