Local cannabis businesses believe Maple Ridge and the province have an opportunity to become high rollers in the industry.
Dan Sutton, CEO of Tantalus Labs, says the industry being so new makes it fragile, but it has the potential to provide significant economic benefits.
“It’s really early days, so in British Columbia right now we have sort of 60 or 70 (cannabis) stores across the province, and the province probably has about 900 liquor stores so that kind of gives an indication as to where cannabis needs to go to become mature,” explained Sutton. “And as a result the amount of revenue being generated… is not quite as much as people thought because we just don’t have the store counts and retail endpoints.”
Sutton believes the lack of accessibility to legal cannabis is attributing to the struggling industry and loss of potential profits; companies who expanded too quickly might be seeing the impact on their bottom line.
“We’re basic we just have a relatively small business, a good sized team that’s growing… I think for some people that have planned their businesses a little less prudently they will suffer and their workforce will shrink,” he said.
However, Sutton is pleased with how the Maple Ridge producer is performing. When the company was looking to set up shop Sutton says the city welcomed them, but the response hasn’t all been positive.
“It’s a contentious business and we knew getting into this we weren’t going to have universal support, that’s just the reality and its okay … so I think its just a trust thing that’s built over time,” Sutton said. “If we continue to empower job creation in this community… and continue to grow that team then people will see this isn’t a big scary business this is just agriculture at its core.”
The cannabis industry has the potential to be big business for British Columbia, according to Sutton. He believes marijuana could be what wine is for Napa Valley.
“Its (cannabis) an economic driver for British Columbia, this is an export market for us… and so it brings money back in from other provinces,” he said.
If the city does more to encourage the growth of this market in Maple Ridge, Sutton says there’s is potential for economic “spill over” because it would mean hiring contractors, lawyers, and staffing the facilities.
Tantalus currently employs 100 operators in what Sutton says are technical and non-technical positions.
“It’s a rigorous work environment for sure, but we make sure people are taken care of… and ultimately you can build a career in this business… there’s just a ton of opportunity in cannabis,” he said.
Tantalus doesn’t have a retail storefront because the province prohibits a cannabis company to have both production and retail
“We sell through provincial distributors so we sell large volumes to British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan… and then they push those out to their retail networks,” Sutton explained.
Those retail networks include Maple Ridge’s first licensed retailer SpiritLeaf, which has been open for three months.
Jeff Sweetnam, owner of the franchise, says business has been steadily growing as people learn about the store opening; because Health Canada prohibits cannabis retailers to advertise he finds many people are surprised to find the pot shop in the city.
“I think the restriction on our ability to actually let people know we’re open hinders the amount that we can actually do,” he said. “Pricing is still a factor and we’re hoping that over time producers and the government will reduce the costs… we need to bring the prices down.”
Maple Ridge is one of only a few municipalities to move ahead with cannabis sales, and Sweetnam believes the city will reap the benefits of the decision as more producers and sellers look to enter the industry.
“There’s a lot of people in Maple Ridge who want to grow, who want to produce and who want to be part of this market, so I think there is an opportunity for the city to nurture those businesses and allow them to thrive.”
While the city juggles the number of proposed pot stores in council, Benchmark Botanics is developing a 174,000 square foot facility in Pitt Meadows.
Sweetnam says the response from the community has been positive overall, but feels there is more work to be done if legalization is going to take a bite out of the black market.
“I think its very small at this point and a lot more needs to be done to get visibility to the legal market.”