Highs & Lows: Ontario’s First Week of Cannabis Retail

Spiritleaf Kingston Princess Street cannabis store Cannabis Retail
Photos by Jesse Milns for Leafly

Five and a half months after Canada became the first G7 nation and the second country in the world to pass legislation legalizing recreational cannabis, the first brick-and-mortar stores opened in Ontario. Nine stores opened for business on April 1, the government-designated date. One opened six days later.

Here are the highs and lows of cannabis retail in Week One.

Highs

Business got off to a roaring start. The stores drew long lines of cannabis enthusiasts and curiosity seekers. Some people stood in line for hours and at least one went further. Caryma’ Sa’d set up a pup tent outside The Hunny Pot in downtown Toronto almost 24 hours before the store opened its doors Monday morning.

“Someone had to be first in line so why not me? My office is just down the street and I do have a professional interest in what’s going on here,” Sa’d, a lawyer who specializes in cases where cannabis issues intersect with criminal law and landlord-tenant law, told Leafly. “It’s a historic moment.”

7/10 Ontario stores that opened Apr. 1 recorded an average of $50,913 in sales and 867 transactions.
Cova Software

“I haven’t been able to purchase cannabis from the Ontario Cannabis Store website [which launched in October] because I have a Visa debit card and that doesn’t work on the site,” she added. “I’m also mindful that people who don’t have fixed addresses or don’t have computer literacy also haven’t been able to purchase cannabis online—and they are some of our most vulnerable community members.”

The budtenders at The Hunny Pot had background knowledge and experience in cannabis and made some good recommendations,” she said, adding that she had purchased her a gram of her go-to strain, Tangerine Dream.

The Hunny Pot, the only cannabis store to open in Toronto on Apr. 1, was jammed with customers for the next four days.

In London, ON around 60 people lined up outside Central Cannabis before it opened its doors for the first time. A consumer named Jason Geldhof was at the head of the queue. He drove in from Goderich, ON, which is 100 kilometres away. When he left the store, he held up his receipt for all to see. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I think we can bring it out into the public eye,” he said. “It’s clean, we’re all respectable people. We’re all adults.”

He was just one of many cannabis consumers who was high on the excitement of the day.

relm cannabis

Sales were brisk on Day One. According to Cova Software, an American cannabis retail software provider that serves 100 stores in Canada, seven of the ten Ontario stores that opened Apr. 1 recorded an average of $50,913 in sales and 867 transactions. Other Canadian stores that are tracked by Cova averaged $4,976 in sales per day and 111 transactions over the first quarter of this year.

Cova’s chief executive officer, Gary Cohen, said sales in Ontario exceeded expectations. “When you think of what the stores in other parts of the country looked like, compared to what we’re seeing in Ontario,” he told Bloomberg News, “Ontario is just on a bigger scale.”

It’s amazing to see it come to life after all the work we’ve put in the last couple of months.
Hunny Gawri, Hunny Pot

None were more enthusiastic about the stores’ robust sales than the owners, each of whom had won the right to apply for a cannabis retail license through a government-run lottery. “It’s amazing to see it come to life after all the work we’ve put in the last couple of months,” Hunny Gawri, the owner of Hunny Pot, told Leafly. “The last few months have been a challenge, but a fun challenge.”

Ganjika House cannabis store dispensary
Photos by Jesse Milns for Leafly

“I’m happy with the way the day has gone,” Clint Seukeran, the owner of Ganjika House in Brampton, ON., told Leafly. “We had a couple of issues with software early on but other than that, everything is going according to plan. I think the customers are having a fantastic experience.”

Lows

A week after the 25 cannabis retail outlets were supposed to open for business, more than half had still not done so. Some were still going through the lengthy government vetting process and facing potential fines for the delay.

This resulted in such high demand at the stores that did open, there were concerns about supply shortages. When he was asked about the possibility of running out of product at The Hunny Pot, Gawri gave an equivocal response. “It’s hard to say,” he told The Canadian Press.

A consultant affiliated with Ameri, a store that opened in the upscale Toronto neighbourhood of Yorkville on Apr. 7, did his best to allay concerns. “We have more than enough product. There’s no need to panic to come down and buy product,” he said. He requested his last name not be used because of concerns crossing the Canada-US border.

While some cannabis consumers fretted over possible product shortages, others raised concerns about accessibility. Not all the stores were prepared to accommodate customers with limited mobility—no small glitch considering the high number of consumers who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes.

hunny pot accessible

The Hunny Pot said it had a ramp that customers on wheelchairs, scooters and other wheel-assisted devices could use to enter the building but none was spotted. As a result, some customers faced challenges entering the building and moving around the multi-level store. About 400 kilometres east, in Ottawa, Fire & Flower, didn’t have an accessibility ramp either. Representatives of both stores say they plan to make their outlets more accessible, in compliance with Ontario law.

“I’m not sure what accommodations are in place at these stores. I think that is something we should all turn our mind to,” said Sa’d. “That being said, I’m excited about having our first brick-and-mortar stores,” she said. “But we have a long way to go.”