Entrepreneur Alex Newman knows his niche market.
He owns a “culture shop,” more commonly known as a bong store, near the University of Windsor.
“We’re right next to the university area and there’s only other culture shop in the city,” said Newman, who owns Endless Heights Culture Shop. “I feel most of the people that would use these services are here in the west end.”
Newman said his biggest clientele is students.
Statistics from Health Canada support his claim. Health Canada reports that the average age of introduction to marijuana use among people 15-24 years old is 15.6 years of age.
Those between 15 and 24 use marijuana three times more often than those 25 years and older. Overall, the rate of drug use by youth 15-24 years of age remains much higher than that reported by adults 25 years and older.
“We felt there was a need for it and a want for it,” he said of west-end shop. “It doesn’t make sense there wasn’t one here.”
Newman’s shop is at 2141 University Ave. W., just blocks from the University of Windsor campus and smack-dab in the middle of off-campus student housing.
He sells bongs, rolling papers even gas masks — all used to smoke marijuana. His items are also used for smoking tobacco or simply as decor.
Whatever the uses, Newman said business is booming.
“This particular time of the year is big. All the students are coming back,” he said. “As soon as August ends the energy around here increases.”
So does the spending, Newman said.
He recently had a house of roommates come in willing to pool $400 each on a bong that was to become the centrepiece for their rental house.
Newman said it’s not uncommon to have university and college students spend their student loans on bongs and rolling papers sold at his store.
The Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), which loans students money, has no steadfast rules on what students can spend their money on. However, loans are based on education costs such as tuition, books and personal living.
“We’re not complaining,” Newman said of business.
Newman is a university grad himself. He has a political science degree and is a former part-time customs officer.
“People kind of chuckle at that,” he said.
According to Newman, nothing he sells is illegal and he’s not licensed to sell tobacco, so he doesn’t.
He can’t, by law, sell rolling papers to anyone under 19. Everything else is for sale to anyone. However, Newman insists he discourages “kids” from buying what he sells and turns away anyone he thinks is too young to smoke pot.
Windsor Police Sgt. Matthew D'Asti said there's not much police can do about what Newman sells.
"We understand that the items that are for sale in these shops — bongs or pipes or things like that — are potentially a dual-purpose item," D'Asti said.
While Newman says he’s busy, marijuana use is actually down in the country, according to Health Canada.
Among Canadians 15 years and older, the prevalence of past-year marijuana use decreased from 10.7 per cent in 2010 to 9.1 per cent in 2011. Health Canada called it a "significant decrease.”
Newman said “pot is everywhere” in Windsor.
“People aren’t hiding it but they aren’t throwing it in your face either,” he said.
But drug and alcohol use isn’t without its critics on campus.
Earlier this year, the university’s head of student affairs, Brooke White, said overindulgence is on the decline and that fewer alcohol-related events would be part of frosh week.
Nevin MacLeod is student alcohol education coordinator at the university. He’s not dead set against drinking and drugs. He just preaches responsibility.
“I believe the best times are the ones you remember at the end of the night,” he said. “Without parents hovering over them, they have the ability to make their own decisions. Sometimes they make the positive decisions. Other times, they are negative decisions.”