Seven months after the first Saskatchewan recreational cannabis stores opened, major cannabis companies are moving to consolidate their grip on the local market.
Of the 29 stores currently operating in the province, at least 10 have either been sold off to a major company or absorbed into a larger brand or franchise, according to a comparison of the original list of recreational cannabis permit holders to the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority's current-to-date list of open stores.
In Saskatoon and Regina, half of the operating stores now fly the banner of either Prairie Records — the store brand belonging to Calgary-based Westleaf Inc. — or Tweed, the retail imprimatur of Canopy Growth Corporation, an Ontario-based leader in Canada's cannabis industry.
The most recent makeover happened on Second Avenue in downtown Saskatoon where, after slightly more than a month of billing itself as Cannabis YXE, the store now sports all the outward signs of a Tweed operation.
Original permit holder Daniel Kwochka said an announcement about the new state of the shop would be forthcoming. Tweed, in a press release last week, dubbed it a "rebranded" store.
Meanwhile, owners of independent stores all say they're going to keep doing their own thing in the face of such consolidation.
"It's not something that we fear at all; it's a natural evolution and progress within the commercial environment," said Andrew Gordon, an executive at Vancouver-based Kiaro.
Kiaro owns a cannabis store in Saskatoon and a newly-opened sister location in La Ronge, the northernmost legal cannabis shop in the province.
"It definitely gives us the chance to shine," said Gordon. "If there's going to be a lot of consolidation, conceivably there's somewhat a reduction in choice and experience. We're going to continue to add value to that side of things for consumers and for communities."
Cierra Sieben-Chuback, the owner of Saskatoon's Living Sky Cannabis, echoed Gordon, saying, "it's probably best to just worry about yourself and care less about what other people are doing and just focus on your customers and providing them with an excellent service and product."
Being small affords more flexibility, said Sieben-Chuback.
"Everybody [at our store] is either from Saskatoon or moved to Saskatoon or grew up in Saskatchewan. So because we grew up in Saskatoon mainly, we know the landscape. We know what to expect and we can figure out typically what people want," she said.
Not to say the majors don't have some advantages, she added.
"They have more buying power," Sieben-Chuback said. "Obviously they're huge. It also probably helps if you own the whole supply chain pretty much. It is also easier for them to raise capital because they can easily sell more shares in their company."
'We I.D. your grandpa'
Geoff Conn, the owner of Saskatoon's The Pot Shack, isn't worried.
"It's all good," Conn said, adding that, like Sieben-Chuback, he still offers some Tweed strands in his store. He likened the brand to Coke — something he'd be foolish not to carry just because Tweed has its own store now. Customers like it, after all.
What Conn would like to see changed are some of the regulations — passed down from federal cannabis legislation — that govern the day-to-day routine of his store.
Specifically, he'd like the everybody-through-the-door-needs-to-be-ID'd rule to be relaxed so that people who are clearly over the age of 19 don't need to be asked to present identification.
"[Right now], we I.D. your grandpa," Conn said. "If your grandpa doesn't have valid I.D., he doesn't get in."
That rule disadvantages people who forget to bring their I.D., Conn said.
"Everybody is just following what Health Canada has laid out. Now it's time to start thinking locally on how we can make it better for the customers and better for the operators."