A longtime downtown Oshawa business, The Peace Pipe, is on the vanguard of a coming cannabis boom in Durham which will see more than a dozen store openings in the coming months.
The Peace Pipe, located at 31 Celina St., has been in business since 1997 selling cannabis accessories. The store’s offerings range from rolling papers costing a few dollars to unique handcrafted glass pipes that retail for several thousand dollars.
“We’ve immersed ourselves in the glass and smoking paraphernalia culture so we’re a big proponent of North American-made glass,” explains owner Herb Hatch.
In June, the store also began selling cannabis, becoming Durham’s third legal cannabis retail store and the second one in Oshawa.
It was a natural extension for the business, but one that didn’t come easily. Hatch explains that he entered the provincial lottery for a cannabis retail licence twice but did not win. It was only when the Doug Ford government scrapped the lottery that The Peace Pipe was able to successfully complete the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario’s process to legally open.
Hatch believes he’s one of the first stores in Ontario to expand from accessory sales into cannabis sales as well.
“Our store is quite large, so you’re at 2,700 square feet and one side is cannabis and higher-end glass and the other side is a regular smoke shop, rolling papers, water pipes, hand pipes … stuff like that.”
It won’t be long before The Peace Pipe faces more competition.
The AGCO is currently considering applications for nine more cannabis stores in Oshawa, with six to be located in the vicinity of the downtown area.
Ajax has one store currently up and running with applications for five more. There are also applications for stores in Uxbridge and Port Perry as well as two each in Newcastle and Bowmanville.
“Now you have almost everyone jumping in, it’s almost like a gold rush … they all think they’re going to get rich, we were in this industry for 20-plus years before everyone else jumps in,” said Hatch, who is also close to finishing the process to sell cannabis at his Peterborough location and he’s looking at opening another location in Cobourg.
He is hoping that The Peace Pipe’s long standing in the community will help his business as the competition kicks up.
“Our motto is ‘the place for puff buffs’ so essentially people that know, know where to go … if you want something worthwhile, a nicer experience, you’re coming to us in Oshawa, that would give us the advantage,” he said.
In addition to competing with each other, legal cannabis retailers are also competing with the black market.
Amir Mostaghim is an associate professor of criminology at Ontario Tech University who has an interest in consumption patterns.
He points out that studies show that among post-secondary students, 50 per cent use cannabis on a semi-regular basis which equates to roughly a gram per week.
“We know that there’s demand, so the question is that demand going to be met by the black market or not because right now as it stands the black market is winning the game,” he said, adding figures prior to the COVID epidemic showed the legal cannabis market accounted for 30 to 40 per cent of sales.
More cannabis stores in convenient locations will cut into that black market, Mostaghim said.
“If we want to get rid of the black market, we should pepper the streets with legal weed … maybe it’s a little more expensive but it should be more convenient to buy.”
Mostaghim said cannabis culture currently targets white, male consumers in most cases and there’s a potential for growth among women and diverse communities.
Women, in particular, are generally more comfortable in purchasing cannabis legally.
“One of the reasons, say, they don’t smoke weed is because they don’t want to go to drug dealers,” he said.
Sarah Hatch, district manager for The Peace Pipe, said customers are embracing legal sales because they like the consistency in the product they purchase and the large selection of strains.