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'Greener pastures:' Cannabis retailers set their sights on rural Ontario

Cannabis retailers are planning to open new stores in many rural southwestern Ontario communities.

Small towns offering new market for cannabis retail

Glencoe, Ontario is the planned location for the cannabis retailer, Cauldron Cannabis. (Max Leighton)

When Derrick Lucas and his business partner opened their first cannabis store in Watford, Ont., they went for a country look: wood floors, chalkboard menus, a set of John Deere green lockers. 

"Like an old-time general store," said Lucas.  

Cauldron Cannabis opened this past May, and it's planning a second location. 

"I decided with the support that we had in Watford, there's no reason why we shouldn't go take our show to another small town," said Lucas. 

Their second shop is scheduled to open in Glencoe, part of Southwest Middlesex, a rural community about 45 minutes west of London. 

Lucas is one of many small business owners entering the legal cannabis trade in rural Ontario.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) is charged with issuing operator licenses and authorizing cannabis retail store locations. In the London area, the AGCO lists numerous applications in-progress for rural communities like Exeter, Lucan-Biddulph, Dorchester and Port Stanley. 

If all goes to plan, Cauldron will open its doors on Main Street in Glencoe by the end of November. 

The proposed new home of Cauldron Cannabis, On Main St. in Glencoe, ON. (Max Leighton)

Setting up shop 

The pot shop is moving in where others have been moving out. Downtown Glencoe runs about four blocks along Main Street — a stretch with about 10 empty storefronts. 

Brooks Marsh has lived in town for 15 years and said he welcomes a new shop on Main Street. As a "child of the 60s and 70s," he's content with it being a cannabis store. 

"I think there's a market for it in Glencoe," he said. "There's a lot of people who rely on CBD oil and THC as well, for pain and anxiety and whatever."

He expects Cauldron to bring customers from the surrounding towns, people he believes currently buy their cannabis online or in larger centres.

A vacant storefront on Main St. in Glencoe, ON. (Max Leighton)

High time for a rural shift

While many rural Ontarians lack options for legal cannabis retail, in some Ontario cities, it's a very different story

The city of London currently has dozens of new applications for cannabis stores with the AGCO, either in-process or cleared to open.

Jay Rosenthal is the co-founder and president of Business of Cannabis, a website that tracks the latest news and trends in the cannabis industry. He said mature cannabis markets in the United States, like Colorado, Oregon and California, offer a glimpse at how many retailers can exist in one place at the same time.

"Economists are suggesting that the ideal ratio is one store for every 7,500 or 10,000 people," he said. "To get that here is great. Except if three or four hundred of them are in Toronto, then the rest of the province is actually not well-served."

He said those numbers may point retailers toward "greener pastures" in rural communities, though it'll ultimately be decided by the market.

"I think, of course, we will see many more open," he said. "And where there is too much density, we will see some, unfortunately, sort of shutter, and maybe try to find a new location."

Not just another bag of cannabis 

The AGCO requires a 15-day public notice period before new cannabis stores are allowed to open. 

During that time, residents can submit written feedback, voicing concerns about things like public health and safety, impact on youth, or restricting illegal activity. 

Cauldron Cannabis' notice period ended on October 20th. It received just one submission, according to the AGCO, from someone concerned about the effects of cannabis on children and youth.

Lucas said he's still got some work to do on the building before he can open up, but when he does, he looks forward to connecting with the community.

"We want people to feel like they're important," he says. "They're not just another bag of cannabis going out the door."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Max Leighton

Producer/Reporter

Max Leighton is a radio producer, reporter and web writer based in Southwestern Ontario. He has worked in CBC newsrooms from Whitehorse to Toronto.

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