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After the hype: pot stores adjust to meet demand

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/10/2018 (734 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Even as the initial hype of legalization started wearing off on Thursday morning, a steady stream of customers showed up at Winnipeg's legal marijuana stores.

At 11:00, a handful of shoppers browsed through Tokyo Smoke's Exchange District store at 264 McDermot Ave. The downtown shop opened at 4:20 p.m. Wednesday.

"Yesterday was awesome," said store manager Deanna Garand. "I think, given our location, we got a huge influx of people around the end of their business day."

Garand said she expected business to pick up later Thursday.

Corbin Cyr, of Tokyo Smoke, showing different strains to Carrie Bryson and Kate Urquhart on Thursday.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Corbin Cyr, of Tokyo Smoke, showing different strains to Carrie Bryson and Kate Urquhart on Thursday.

Smoking weed outdoors is no walk in the park

For many people who use cannabis, there is no better place to partake than in the great outdoors. But Manitoba law bars marijuana lovers from doing so even in the vastness of provincial parks: getting caught smoking weed carries a $672 fine.

For many people who use cannabis, there is no better place to partake than in the great outdoors.

But Manitoba law bars marijuana lovers from doing so even in the vastness of provincial parks: getting caught smoking weed carries a $672 fine.

Manitobans have one option for smoking weed by a campfire on a starry night: cannabis consumption will be allowed in certain areas of national parks, which are under the jurisdiction of Parks Canada.

Adults can use cannabis within "registered Parks Canada campsites" at those parks, the Parks Canada website says. In Manitoba, that means either Riding Mountain National Park or the much more remote Wapusk National Park. 

Marijuana use remains prohibited in public areas of Parks Canada parks, campground common areas such as kitchens, bathrooms or roads, in the backcountry, on trails, and on playgrounds. Cannabis use is also prohibited in public areas of the town-site of Wasagaming in Riding Mountain.

Even though The Forks is a national historic site operated by Parks Canada, you can forget about legally smoking a joint where the Red River meets the Assiniboine. The Parks Canada website says provincial cannabis laws apply in historic sites such as The Forks and Lower Fort Garry.

"Now that people know we're fully functioning — Tokyo Smoke has been blasting on social media that we're open — I think we'll get a good influx today, once people are out of their cannabis experiences from last night and ready to come back for more today."

In Osborne Village, there were no lineups outside the Tweed cannabis store at 120 Osborne St. as of 11:45. But inside the store, about 15 customers were queued up to buy dried marijuana. Some cannabis strains and package sizes were sold out at the Tweed store on Thursday, but the company said more weed was on the way.

"We are going to be replenishing very, very shortly," said Carlo Bevilacqua, the director of national retail operations for Tweed store owner Canopy Growth Corp.

"So it'll start to level off, and we're working through a lot of those (supply issues)."

Tokyo Smoke on McDermot Avenue was busy Thursday.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Tokyo Smoke on McDermot Avenue was busy Thursday.

In the meantime, said Bevilacqua, Canopy's Tweed stores were quickly learning what customers want. Medium package sizes such as 3.5 gram and 7 g containers were particularly popular, he said. Package sizes at legal cannabis stores range from 1 g up to 30 g — the maximum amount of marijuana that can be legally carried in public under the new law.)

"I think people are being conscious about their first-time purchase, and being modest with understanding the strains, and trying them out," Bevilacqua said. "And then I think it'll lead to a bigger purchase down the way, once they know what's good for them or what they like."

Most of all, Bevilacqua said, Tweed customers just seemed happy to be buying their weed in a legal retail environment.

"I have to say, despite any hiccups or lineups, or any growing pains, the customers coming in here are really great — and very patient, with I think every retailer across Canada."

A bit further south, there were no lineups outside the Meta Cannabis Supply Co. store at 548 Pembina Hwy. Inside the store, though, at least 20 customers were busy shopping at 12:30 in the afternoon. Those shoppers had been snapping up 1 g containers of marijuana as fast as they could get them — only the "Shishkaberry" variety was left in that size.

"Grams are a hot seller," said Matt Ryan, vice-president of marketing for parent company National Access Cannabis.

"For the masses out there, these brands and strains are new, so maybe people are just being selective. Rather than buying the full case of beer, they're buying the six-pack first to see if they like it."

Like Bevilacqua at the Tweed store, Ryan said Meta's first customers have been remarkably patient as staff, who are called "friendly guides", shepherd shoppers through complex transactions.

"We want people to look around in the store, and we anticipate that if you speak with a friendly guide and you have a few questions, you could be speaking with someone for 10 to 20 minutes... Which is different than a lot of retail, especially different than how the grey market was working before."

Eventually, Ryan expects customers to move through the stores much more quickly as they establish brand preferences.

In St. Vital, at least 40 customers of all ages packed the Delta 9 Cannabis Store at 1 p.m. Thursday.

"You see the mix here — it's a lot of seniors," said Al Roney, Delta 9's vice-president of retail operations. "Some are looking for some pain control, some are looking for relaxing, and lots of different issues."

Delta 9 was the only marijuana retailer in Winnipeg that would disclose its Wednesday sales figures to the Free Press. The store at 827 Dakota St. sold about 25,000 grams of cannabis on the first day of legalization, with $125,000 in online sales and $200,000 in-store sales.

"The smaller sizes, 1 g and 3.5 g bottles, are selling the fastest," said Roney.

Shoppers were also hungry for cannabis accessories, Roney added, especially vaporizers and "one-hitters," small pipes designed for small amounts of weed.

Just then, Delta 9 CEO John Arbuthnot walked up. He said the company's biggest legalization surprise was the strong demand for home delivery.

"We've seen about 50 per cent of orders are coming through online. Initially we were thinking, maybe 80/20 in-store to online, and it's actually closer to 50/50."

Third-party courier Pineapple Express would add more drivers to meet demand, he said, and Delta 9 employees were making deliveries.

"This is part of the learning curve where we made assumptions coming in, and now we're figuring out what was right and what was wrong, and then go from there," said Arbuthnot.

"The amazing part, to me, has just been the excitement from everyone."

solomon.israel@freepress.mb.ca

@sol_israel

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