While they may not make the news often, the Prairie provinces are building their cannabis markets brick by brick. Saskatchewan has been applauded for its approach to cannabis, but what’s happening in Manitoba? A lot, as it turns out.
Since opening the market to private retailers in June, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MBLL) has been issuing a lot of new licences, welcoming new retailers to the market. One of the first to open was The Joint, a cannabis accessory shop that’s been in business since 2007. It was a natural transition for them to include cannabis alongside cannabis accessories, and they have a total of three cannabis retail locations so far.
Aside from major chains like Meta Cannabis Supply Co., Winnipeg also saw the opening of Up In Smoke Henderson, as well as Farmer Jane Cannabis Co., an independent brand based out of Saskatchewan. The Prairie provinces seem to foster more independent retailers with a “hometown” vibe.
“We wanted to bring in an atmosphere that was relatable to people, and bring a bit of the Prairies into it,” says Karlee Gendreau, co-founder of Farmer Jane Cannabis Co.
Rural Manitoba is also starting to see a few more retail stores popping up. Flin Flon and Lac du Bonnet have their own stores now, and in St. Jean-Baptiste, a tiny town about an hour south of Winnipeg, cannabis is being sold at the local grocery store.
When the legal market opened, Manitoba had ten retailers approved and ready to go. By April 2019, it had more than doubled that number to 22 and continued to climb after “Phase 2” was announced, which allowed for seven more stores to open, bringing the number up to 29. Now there are 41 stores approved to sell cannabis, according to the Liquor, Gaming, and Cannabis Authority (LGCA), with more on the way.
In September, the LGCA put out a call for the public’s opinion about a new type of cannabis licence that would allow on-site service and consumption. This could include anything from consumption lounges to spa services. Nothing is set in stone yet, however, the LGCA plans to take the information gathered through the survey and use it to move forward.
“We are quite interested in what entrepreneurs will come back with. We get a lot of interesting creative ideas from the industry because we don’t get to look at it from that side of things,” says Amanda Creasy, the LGCA’s Director of Strategic Services and Public Affairs.
As one might expect, with the growing number of retail outlets, monthly sales in the province have increased as well. This time last year, monthly sales were sitting at approximately $4.7 million. By January of 2020, they had climbed to $6.6 million. In August, the most recent numbers available from Statistics Canada, Manitoba clocked in at a healthy $9.6 million in sales—a 40.6% increase over August of last year.
According to John Arbuthnot, CEO and co-founder of Delta 9 Cannabis, they expected people to have stopped their pandemic stockpiling behaviour by now, but sales are staying steady. Arbuthnot told the Winnipeg Sun earlier this month that basket sizes have increased significantly in the last year, going from an average of $35-$40 per transaction to around $55. He said that total transactions were up, as well.
Delta 9 has been doing its own growing, entering into partnerships with a handful of micro-growers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. This focus on locally grown and sold cannabis could be a boon for Manitoba, but only if the province allows it.
“In Manitoba, purchasing has to be done through the MBLL, so our hands are tied as far as what we are offering.” says John Thomas, co-owner of Farmer Jane Cannabis Co. “In Saskatchewan, we are able to purchase directly from the producer, which is a great environment because we can have those relationships.”
Other retailers with a presence in Saskatchewan have echoed this sentiment, too. Not only could it strengthen the market with competition, but also, as Thomas says, make it easier for Manitobans to support local growers and merchants.
As Canada’s fifth-most populous province, Manitoba likely doesn’t expect to be number one in cannabis sales, but two years in, it’s starting to carve out its place. Between craft growers, potential consumption lounges, and easy accessibility for customers with online purchasing and delivery, Manitoba is ripe with opportunities to grow its cannabis industry.