A couple times a day, Ron from the High Life Head Shop in Niagara Falls has to explain that, no, he does not have weed to sell.
“It’s all American tourists,” said Ron, the store owner, who didn’t want his last name used.
He noted that the tourists are often confused when they are unable to purchase cannabis.
“They’ve heard on the news that weed is legal here, but they don’t know any of the details. They come here thinking they can buy it in the stores, so they come here and then I have to explain that it doesn’t work that way. They usually leave pretty disappointed.”
The shop on Victoria Ave. is about a block away from Clifton Hill and the casinos and hotels, which are packed with American tourists. All the usual head shop stuff is for sale there (bongs, rolling papers, etc.) and because of that, Americans think they can also buy cannabis there; since legalization in October, he said that business from Canadian customers has remained pretty steady, while interest from American tourists has skyrocketed.
“It’s like that song about the California streets being paved with gold,” said Ron with a chuckle. “These Americans think our streets are now paved with weed.”
Cannabis was legalized across the country back in October, but since then it has only been available in Ontario through an online store, with the product delivery exclusively by Canada Post. In April, a select set of 25 retail stores will open which will sell cannabis directly to consumers — across the west region (which includes Niagara alongside places like Hamilton, Brant, Perth, and Waterloo ) only seven of those retail cannabis licenses are up for grabs.
Due to the demand from American tourists, and the potential to cash-in on cannabis tourism, Ron thinks a licence should go to Niagara Falls, despite the fact that there are bigger cities like St. Catharines and Hamilton in the same region. The city’s MPP, Wayne Gates, said he agrees.
“Obviously, the demand is there,” said Gates. “As it stands today, there are going to be a lot of American tourists looking for this. It’s a big opportunity.”
Within a few years, Gates said he believes that New York state will also legalize cannabis — but in the meantime, he said it makes sense for Niagara Falls to leverage legalization, to bolster its arsenal of tourism options and entice American tourists to spend money in the city.
Last week, the city took the provincial opt-in to the cannabis retail program, opening the door for whoever wins the local license (which was done via provincial lottery) to set up shop within the city.
“It’s going to be a licence to print money. The profits are going to be enormous,” said Gates, who noted that cannabis sales (which only occurred in the last three months of 2018) totalled about $1.6 billion last year.
Gates noted that every corner of his riding is jumping into the cannabis sector: there is a cannabis growing course at Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and a major cannabis producer, CannaCure, in Fort Erie.
The burgeoning industry should be embraced by the entire Niagara Region, said Gates, from retail stores to manufacturing.
“Niagara is perfectly located to move into the manufacturing of cannabis, and that’s where we should be looking,” said Gates. “If you look at the stock market, it’s clear this industry is only going to get bigger, it’s just going to keep growing.”