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Since recreational cannabis was legalized last fall, many Canadians have struggled to buy product in-person, given the scant number of storefronts.

Colorado shows just how far Canada has to go. The state legalized recreational marijuana in 2014, and today it has more than 560 recreational outlets serving a population of some 5.7 million. Put another way, Colorado has roughly 10 stores for every 100,000 residents.

So, to match Colorado’s store density, how many stores would each province need to add? AltaCorp Capital tackled this question in a recent research note.

The short answer: significantly more.

Over all, Canada has just over 360 actual or planned retail locations – or 10 per cent of the 3,640 locations that AltaCorp says are needed to match Colorado’s density.

The shortage is less severe in some parts of the country, but glaring in others. For instance, in Ontario, the first licensed cannabis stores didn’t open until April, and only 25 store licenses have been issued to date. Though not every store has opened, the planned 25 amounts to 0.2 stores for every 100,000 residents. To close the gap with Colorado, Ontario would need to add nearly 1,400 stores, AltaCorp found.

“Canada needs more brick-and-mortar retail stores,” AltaCorp said. Cannabis sales growth has been “weak,” the firm added, and it attributes a big part of that to the “lack of physical retailers across the country.”

To be sure, Canadian consumers have not been entirely shut out: e-commerce channels have been open across the country since Day One. However, the early months of cannabis legalization have been marked by supply shortages – one factor that’s contributed to the sluggish retail rollout.

Moreover, AltaCorp said the in-person retail experience can be crucial.

“The legal recreational cannabis market in Canada is in its infancy, and as such, a significant number of consumers will likely be first-time users without much knowledge of the different products and their effects,” the firm said.

“A well-developed retail platform allows customers to interact with knowledgeable staff and provide them with a holistic customer experience, which is essential to attracting first-time and existing users to the legal recreational channels.”

On the issue of first-time buyers, Statistics Canada delivered news Thursday that many industry watchers will find encouraging. As part of its quarterly survey on consumption, Statscan found 646,000 people reported trying cannabis for the first time during the opening three months of 2019, or nearly double the amount of first-time users from a year earlier, when recreational cannabis was still illegal. Half of new users were aged 45 and older.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story had an outdated figure for the number of planned cannabis outlets in Quebec. This story has been updated to reflect the new figure.

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