Cannabis dispensaries may soon outnumber Tim Hortons in Peterborough

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It’s been two years since Canada legalized the sale of cannabis, and there are at least eight dispensaries in Peterborough, with more coming.

Compare that to the 12 full locations of the country’s most popular coffee chain, Tim Hortons, which has been an established Canadian brand for decades.

At Sessions Cannabis on Lansdowne Street, people are constantly coming in and out, some of them regulars who check in and have a conversation with the staff. Others are brand new to cannabis.

“We’re getting busy regularly,” says manager Matt Buchan. “I see a vast array of clients from 19-year-olds to (seniors) over 80 coming in, for everything from smoking cannabis to oils and topicals.”

But can Peterborough sustain so many dispensaries opening up in such a short period of time? With a brand new industry in Ontario, it’s unclear how much capacity the market can carry.

Though Buchan says it hasn’t reached that ceiling yet, as sales continue to climb. Sessions opened in January, and since then it’s seen a growing cannabis market.

The clientele has been “a really fair mix,” says Buchan. Some people are getting back into cannabis after being gone from it for some time, others who brand new to it, and even some who grow it.

Opening up cannabis sales from the black market has spiked interest, says Buchan. More people are trying it out, and are learning new ways of consuming beyond just smoking it.

Business keeps building each week, and there isn’t any fear it’s reached its peak.

“I feel like there will be a plateau at some point, but I hope not for quite a while,” says Buchan.

Since legalization Peterborough has seen an explosion of dispensaries across town. Buchan says many shops are closing in downtown Toronto where the market is packed.

But Peterborough isn’t Toronto, and Buchan says research is showing there should be one store for every 10,000 to 12,000 residents of a city.

“I’m just reading industry reports,” says Buchan. “We’re all just shooting in the dark and hoping for the best.”

The province is happy to let stores open, due to the amount of licensing fees associated with launching a dispensary, then from its share of sales, he adds.

Numbers are showing growth and the market doesn’t appear to be slowing, notes Buchan. COVID-19 may have even pushed more people to try it while stuck at home.

With such a new industry though it can be hard to place an exact point of how much the market can carry.

“It’s a classic free market situation, where the market in the end decides how many stores are enough,” says Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce President Stuart Harrison.

There was some lag provincially, as other provinces began to open stores before Ontario, which started with it’s online-only Ontario Cannabis Store.

Harrison says the chamber was a part of the lobby to loosen cannabis regulations, but at this point has stepped back and is letting the market run itself.

Whether eight or more stores is too many for Peterborough is an answer he says he doesn’t have, and the industry will have to figure out.

“How many is too many? Are there too many places to buy cigarettes? Are there too many coffee shops or convenience stores?” he asks.

Downtown on George Street, Curtis Lambert helps customers at Happy Dayz, a former pipe shop which pivoted to become a dispensary. The acting general manager says while he’s only been at the store for a month, it’s clear there’s more money to be earned.

“The market is definitely growing,” says Lambert. “It’s opening new doors and job opportunities.”

Customers seem pleased with the choices of dispensaries available, and the traffic coming to buy cannabis means more buyers and staff spending money downtown.

That’s a key point for Downtown Business Improvement Area executive director Terry Guiel.

On top of dollars being spent downtown, dispensaries are making jobs and filling vacancies.

Just on George Street there are at least three dispensaries with even more among the periphery of the main downtown strip.

Attitudes among the other business owners are friendly, Guiel notes, and he hasn’t heard any complaints.

“It’s more accepted in the public eye than it was five to ten years ago,” he says.

As for how many stores is too many, Guiel says he isn’t sure, but the industry will find out eventually.

“They’re all very busy, which tells me the market isn’t oversaturated yet,” he says.

The market continues to change, as attitudes and buying habits adapt, adds Buchan. Cannabis sales used to be done in secret, but now it’s all done on camera in boutique shops like Sessions.

“Ontario increased its sales $4 million month in and month out from July to August,” says Buchan. “So it’s definitely not died down.”

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