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When Thomas H. Clarke was 18 years old, he was jailed for 30 days for selling some hash to a buddy.
Today, Clarke, whose initials ironically spell THC, runs a burgeoning legal cannabis shop in Portugal Cove, a small Newfoundland town just outside of St. John’s.
“It’s crazy how things come around,” Clarke said.
His store, called Thomas H. Clarke’s Distribution, is one of many places one can legally purchase marijuana in Newfoundland and Labrador. Other provinces in Atlantic Canada have opted to set up a government-operated regime, but in Newfoundland privately owned businesses — from gas stations to cannabis-only storefronts — are free to sell cannabis as long as they have a licence.
But even with the competition, Clarke, whose store was the first to sell legal cannabis in Canada on Oct. 17, said things are going well in his little shop.
“It’s been pretty flat out. I’ve done $125,000 or $130,000 in sales since opening and that’s with going a full week with zero product,” Clarke said.
“Day 1, I ran out at 4:20 in the afternoon; I went to ring in the last customer and it was 4:18 and I was like ‘you gotta wait two minutes.’”
Strains with high THC — 20 per cent or more — tend to sell out very quickly, he said, but he’s also noticed a lot of people interested in trying high CBD strains, which users say offer medicinal benefits without the psychoactive effects.
“A lot of people are trying CBD because, of course, it hasn’t really been readily available on the black market so there’s a lot of new customers who are coming out of the woodwork,” he said.
Prerolled joints are also popular, he said, as are Indica-heavy strains.
As for his customer base, Clarke said it’s been all over the map, but he’s starting to notice a few trends.
“There’s a lot of baby boomers coming in, a lot of people between 60 and 80. Believe it or not, I’d say that’s my biggest customer base right now,” he said.
No outright sellouts yet in Nova Scotia
Beverly Ware, the communications advisor with the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation, which is responsible for all online and in-store recreational cannabis sales in Nova Scotia, said she is unable to release details on the quantities of cannabis sold in the province in the first month. People who want that information will have to wait for the corporation’s third-quarter reports in January but she said the demand has been extremely strong.
Of the 12 cannabis stores in the province — 11 of which are co-located with NSLC stores — Ware said the busiest have been the four in metro Halifax and one located in Sydney River.
Though Ware couldn’t provide information on how online sales have been compared to in-store purchases, she said the website is getting plenty of traffic.
“It’s interesting that we find a lot of the traffic on the website tends to be customers who are looking for information and to get educated about products,” she said.
“(We want) our customers to be well informed and hopefully doing some homework before they come into the stores.”
In terms of what products are most popular, Ware said customers seem to be most interested in purchasing in smaller quantities — one and 3.5-gram packages as opposed to the larger seven and 14-gram formats.
“We don’t know if that’s something that will continue to be the case. It could well be that because there are a variety of products that customers could try that they were just buying small quantities initially to see what product provides them with the experience they’re looking for,” she said.
While no Nova Scotia cannabis stores have completely sold out of product, Ware said some — the Portland Street in Dartmouth, Joseph Howe in Halifax and Sydney River locations — have had to close earlier than expected due to stocking issues during the first couple weeks of sales.
“We closed the stores just a few hours early and then we were able to reopen them the next morning after we delivered more inventory,” Ware said.
“Fortunately our replenishment process is quite flexible, so to help address some of those shortages we knew we would be facing, we were able to bring on a licensed producer from P.E.I. just a few days before legalization to sort of help with that shortfall.”
Demand consistent, supply a challenge in New Brunswick
In New Brunswick, where there are 20 government-operated stores as well as an online marketplace, there have been more significant stock issues.
In an emailed statement, Cannabis N.B. spokeswoman Marie-Andrée Bolduc said due to unexpected last minute issues the province has received only about 20-30 per cent of the shipment it ordered for the Oct. 17 launch.
This has caused temporary store closures across the province. Last week, she said, there were temporary closures at 12 of their 20 stores across the province, however all had reopened their doors within a few days
“We expect supply levels to eventually normalize, however, the demand is consistent, and supply is a challenge,” Bolduc said.
In Prince Edward Island, where there are only three stores — all government-run — closures due to shortages have not been an issue.
According to figures released by P.E.I. Cannabis, in the first week of legalization the province sold $519,265 worth of product after taxes, with the most sales coming from their Charlottetown outlet. Online purchases only amounted to $37,603 after taxes.
While it’s still early days for legal cannabis, sellers are already looking forward to future opportunities in this booming market. Ware said she’s expecting the NSLC will be able to offer more Nova Scotia product as more local producers become available.
Clarke, too, is hoping to one day offer local product, including some he hopes to grow himself, and said he is also preparing to be able to offer edibles once those become legal in 2019.
“I can’t wait until I can say that I’ve got 40 strains in stock and they’ve all been grown in Newfoundland,” he said.
For now, he’s just pumped to be living the dream.
“In my high school yearbook, I said my dream was to open my own cafe in Amsterdam,” Clarke said. “I’m really happy about how things are playing out.”