Is Stratford becoming pot-marked?


  • Editorial   Sunday, July 10, 2022   Matthew Harris

To think that just a generation ago, this opinion piece would have been derided as heretical and likely seditious. Now, it could be taken as being anti-business and anti-progress.

Never the less, the question has to be asked: is Stratford about to become known as a marijuana mecca?

Another new marijuana dispensary opened here last month out in the Sobeys plaza, just after the one across the road (formerly Crossroads Cannabis) was re-branded after being sold. Those go with the one downtown and the four in the east end. While we’re not being over-run and there is likely no danger of a Reefer Madness of Up In Smoke remake being made in the city’s streets, it’s just a little curious that we now find ourselves graced by so many (relatively speaking) pot shops.

Since context is king, let’s get some for this topic: Stratford’s approximate population is around 33,232 (give or take a few heads). Let’s round that figure off to an even 33,200. Given that a good portion of that is likely below the legal age for purchasing and consuming marijuana and related products, we can knock that number down to 26,200 (roughly 21 per cent, which is the national average for people 19 and under).

Divided by the total number of people that could partake legally, that works out to around 3,742 people per dispensary in Stratford.

The other half of this contextual coin? A February 23 report on Forbes.com reported that the pot industry in Canada – since it became legal in 2018 – has accounted for $43.5 billion injected into the economy ($11 billion in sales, $29 billion in capital expenditures). On average, dispensaries make between $1.2-$2 million in gross revenue; for an average of $2M revenue per year, with at least 12 per cent profit, dispensary owners can take home a gross profit of $240,000. That figure was posted on www.covasoftware.com.

Perhaps we need to reframe it in this manner: pot dispensary owners are this generation’s ‘it’ franchise owners – they’re here to make money. Here is the case for that argument.

Marijuana dispensaries are becoming ubiquitous. It’s not an argument for or against – it’s just a fact. Canada made the decision to legalize the drug and treat it, for all intents and purposes, just like alcohol in the manner in which it can be distributed.

This genie is out of the bottle and not going back in anytime soon, if ever.

In the same way that the drive-thru window helped change the way people looked at eating, there is an argument to be made that the nature in which pot has become readily available has changed not only how we consume it but how we view it. 

In a ‘same but not exactly the same’ vein, look at the statistics on medical marijuana. In March 2021, we had 39,525 individuals registered with Health Canada for personal and designated cultivation of cannabis for medical purposes. Six months later, that figure was 47,147 – an increase of 19 per cent.

If that number seems low by comparison, it’s likely due to the rise in number of dispensaries in Ontario. Take London as a comparison: with a population of 404,699 people and, factoring in the 21 per cent who legally can’t purchase marijuana and pot-adjacent products, you’re counting just under 320,000 eligible customers. The Forest City has 39 dispensaries available to those wanting their products. The math works out to roughly 8,200 would-be customers per dispensary.

Take 10 per cent of that number (820) as your customer base and figure the average customer spends about $65 a week in their favourite shop. Work that out over a full year and it’s north of $2.7M.

Those who oppose the idea of marijuana being so easily available might fall back on the old ‘gateway drug’ references. But could those same people be from the generation that thought a nightcap was a good way to finish the day? Are we going to judge the 70-year-old retiree who prefers a THC pill to deal with pain while sleeping over popping a handful of Tylenol? Sharing a joint has become just as socially acceptable for recreational gatherings as alcohol, but the responsibility standard remains the same.

The rise in dispensaries is relative to the demand for the product and the ability to meet that demand. Ten years ago, the average Tim Hortons franchise owner was looking at only slightly more money in their pocket every year, and there is a common belief that owning one of those franchises was tantamount to printing money in your basement.

Times have changed and now the green is for more than just smoking.

So is Stratford going green in ways that are more than ecologically responsible? Maybe, but the next boom industry might very well be pizza parlours – there are only 12 in town.

You do the math … one slice at a time.