Independent cannabis retailers form Saskatchewan ‘Weed Pool’

Independent retailers hoping to band together to improve their buying power and cut down costs faced by consumers

Jim Southam stands behind the cash register of his new store, Prairie Cannabis, the first recreational cannabis store to open in Prince Albert. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

A collective of independently-owned Saskatchewan cannabis retailers is hoping to follow in the footsteps of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and band together to improve their buying power.

According to a press release, the group of retailers are having a hard time competing against large corporate licensed producers and large, publicly-traded cannabis companies. The group says that about three-quarters of the 51 licenses that were won in the province’s cannabis lottery are now owned or controlled by those corporations.

“Supply of legal and approved products on a store-by-store basis is challenging for large suppliers to work with, so the group has been working on ways to collaborate and pool their buying requirements,” they said in a press release.

“A co-operative approach and business model has been formed to facilitate the commercial activities of the group, which (has been) respectfully named the Weed Pool Cannabis Cooperative Ltd.” They’re in the process of applying for a cannabis wholesaling permit.

Submitted photo. The logo of the newly-formed Saskatchewan Weed Pool.

The name and branding is a reference to the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, which was formed in 1923 by a group of small farmers as a means of competing against the corporate giants of their day.

“It gets quite a reaction out of some people,” said Jim Southam of Prince Albert’s Prairie Cannabis.

“We figured we’d come right out and relate our group to the history of the Wheat Pool. There is a lot of similarities there. We’re quite proud to be following in the footsteps of a local cooperative that was so successful for the last 100 years. We hope that we can achieve part of that success.”

Southam is the current president of the Weed Pool. He said the power in the name and that connection to the past will be important for consumers looking to support private operations.

“We thought it would be beneficial for our suppliers to set up our own distribution point,” he said. “Ultimately, it will serve customers with better pricing and better product selection.”

The Wheat Pool was started by a group of wheat producers to market wheat directly to importers. Returns were pooled and divided annually among members after expenses were paid.

The company grew following the Second World War to its peak when it owned about 1,260 wooden elevators all in Saskatchewan. The Wheat Pool ceased to be a cooperative in 1996, going public. It was re-launched as Viterra Inc. in June of 2007.

The Wheat Pool is far from the only co-operative to gain traction on the prairies. Federated Cooperatives Limited formed from several smaller cooperatives in Saskatchewan in 1944, and is one of the largest companies operating in the province today.

“The cooperative model works very well,” Southam said, “even down to a smaller scale like what we’re doing right now, just starting out.”

Southam added that he doesn’t anticipate any resistance from the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) which licenses both cannabis retailers and wholesalers in the province.

“We’re all permitted retailers. You have to be a permitted retailer to be a member of this cooperative as it stands right now. We’re all vetted; we’re all screened and operating.”

A spokesperson from SLGA said it was “no surprise” cannabis retailers were seeking a wholesale license.

Cannabis retailers are eligible to apply for a wholesale permit. There is no limit to the number of wholesalers permitted to operate in Saskatchewan.

So far, Southam said, the group hasn’t received any negative feedback about their name. He emphasized they chose it to honour the past.

“We’re trying to be very clear that we’re being very respectful. We don’t want to take anything away from the Wheat Pool and its accomplishments of the past,” he said.

 “We just want to emulate what the wheat pool was and do something great again for the people of Saskatchewan, and hopefully, all of Canada one day”