Two founders of Saskatchewan’s Weed Pool say this year’s 420 wasn’t just a day of celebration. Despite being deemed an essential service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, they hope now more than ever that the public recognizes the impact of supporting private retailers.
The Weed Pool is a cooperative of independently-owned cannabis retailers hoping to compete against corporations. The group is following in the footsteps of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, formed by a group of farmers in 1923.
“This 420, probably more than most, maybe will be a little bit of a reminder of how small the world is,” said Clay Sparks, founder and CEO of Flower Power Cannabis Pharms Inc.
“Amazon’s not going to take care of you, but private businesses and private entrepreneurs and local people, I think there’s going to be a lot more draw to supporting those types of establishments, I think especially in the cannabis industry.”
Sparks is hoping to have his store in La Loche up and running by July. Being a Saskatoon entrepreneur, he said it took a lot of time to gain approval from the community.
In June 2018, the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) announced the winners of 51 retail cannabis licenses—three quarters of which were awarded to large licensed producers and other publicly-traded cannabis brands.
However, according to the Weed Pool, the cooperative of nine people has taken over 50 per cent of all legal sales.
Jim Southam, CEO of Prairie Cannabis in Prince Albert, is the president of the Weed Pool.
“We realized very quickly who our competition was and looking across the street at the national franchises and licensed producer retail operations, we were looking for a way to achieve better pricing and compete better in the market,” he said.
“We felt like pooling our resources and working together to source products and do our own distribution was a good way to go.”
Members of the pool receive “immediate boosts,” including member-only pricing, assistance with SLGA and municipal applications and merchant discounts. The group now has an e-commerce website open to cannabis retailers across the province.
Southam says his sales have gone up in the past eight to 10 weeks, likely because people are stocking up knowing they won’t be leaving home as much. Right across the country, he said, he’s heard cannabis sales are increasing by between 20 and 30 per cent.
Southam has been debating whether or not to open up another store in La Ronge: “We were looking at it. We haven’t ruled it out yet.”
This comes after the province scrapped the cap on cannabis licenses.
It began accepting applications on Apr. 1 for licenses in communities of less than 2,500 people. In September, they’ll be accepting applications for communities larger than 2,500 people.
“With everything that’s going on with the COVID-19 issue, it’s kind of expansion and new store applications kind of seem to be, nobody’s rushing to get involved right now,” said Southam.
“I talked to an SLGA representative last week and he said he hadn’t heard of a lot of applications since Apr. 1.”
Southam said with the SLGA now accepting applications, it’s important to voice that the Weed Pool is open to new members.
“That’s what it’s all about: Teaching people what cannabis is and providing better access and better education so people can learn how to use it and understand it a little better,” he said.
“I got into this to put cannabis back in the hands of people.”