A year after it became legal in Canada, and 10 months after the first store opened in Grande Prairie, the need for weed hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.
“We didn’t know what to expect, really,” says Lucky Leaf owner Sheldon D’Souza. “We were one of the first stores in Alberta and it was sort of an experiment to see people would react, but we felt like people in Grande Prairie reacted to it well.”
“I think we shed a lot of light opening in Grande Prairie, and us being local too, I think was a plus,” he adds.
Lucky Leaf opened on December 22, 2018, and was the only store open in Grande Prairie until the summer of 2019 due to a freeze on licences issued by Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis. Since then, eight other recreational cannabis retailers have also opened their doors.
However, D’Souza says he doesn’t consider them competition per se, as they are all fighting the same battle when it comes to what he calls eliminating the stigma around cannabis use.
“It increases the education around cannabis and the industry so I’m actually happy there are more stores opening up because I think it helps all of us.”
A plethora of new pot shops is also not a Grande Prairie specific phenomenon, as the use of cannabis across Alberta remains steadily on the rise.
According to the Statistics Canada Q2 National Cannabis Survey, 20 per cent of Albertans over the age of 15 admit to using cannabis at least once over the last three months. Those numbers put Alberta ahead of more than half the country, including Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec. That 20 per cent translates into just over 860,000 users.
However, even with high numbers when it comes to cannabis use, those in the day-to-day operations side of things still feel like they’re jumping over hurdles when it comes to normalizing use.
Lucky Leaf Manager Emma Laver says the comparison between legal cannabis and liquor stores is one she hears often and hopes at some point people won’t bat an eyelash at the thought of cannabis dispensaries popping up in residential neighbourhoods.
“That stigma is there, 100 per cent it is, that alcohol vs cannabis [stigma],” she says. “I think we will get there one day, but we have to remember it was an illegal substance a year ago.”
Phase two of cannabis legalization, which includes things like edibles, went into effect on Thursday.