Blogs & Comment

Marijuana is mainstream, but smoky stigma sticks to small businesses

Industry expo brings together a wide variety of entrepreneurs cashing in on pot.

(Photo: Alejandro Godinez/


It’s widely accepted that marijuana is big business in Canada, with many estimating the value of just British Columbia’s annual pot crop in the billions. But how big is the market for the equipment needed to grow, cultivate and consume all that weed?

The Treating Yourself Expo, a convention targeting the medicinal marijuana crowd, was held from June 3 to 5th at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, featuring a wide range of Canadian small businesses focused on the marijuana industry. The event, now in its second year, featured 108 exhibitors and according to organizer Marco Renda had sold more than $25,000 in ticket pre-sales. Speaking on the first day, he said the attendance was already set to surpass last year’s total attendance.

“We should get about 9,000 people through the gate today,” he said. “And there are about 50% more exhibitors here this year. Last year we had six seed companies, this weekend we’ve got more than 30.”

The crowd wandering the expo floor reflected the diversity of pot consumption. Sure, there was the dreadlocked (and white) stoner cliche wandering around in a Bob Marley T-shirt, but also the clean cut, 60-something man in a sport coat and sensible shoes. Many others wouldn’t look out of place in a suburban mall or midsized accounting firm. And while there were plenty of bongs, a good number of exhibitors were there selling seeds, plant nutrients and other growing aids, as well as cultivation equipment ranging in size from industrial to desktop.

According to the latest Health Canada numbers, published in January 2010, just 4,884 Canadians were authorized to possess marijuana for medical purposes, and 3,576 are allowed to cultivate for medical purposes. While there is surely some crossover between the two, even adding those figures together still doesn’t match Renda’s estimate for Day One attendance at the expo. And there’s the rub. Organizers tout the legality of it all and exhibitors boast of an ever-growing market, but it’s clear the bulk of revenue isn’t coming from medical users and a smoky stigma hangs over these small businesses.

I chatted with two entrepreneurs, one from Calgary with six employees, the other from Montreal with more than 20. Both declined to have their names published, citing that pesky stigma and future job-hunting prospects. Alberta’s Herbalaire has been in business for six years, designing and manufacturing a vaporizer (pictured above) used to extract smoke from pot without combustion. The Montreal firm Trimpro designs and manufactures leaf trimming equipment. Both companies openly market their products, yet are careful not to explicitly mention any connection to marijuana. On Herbalaire’s homepage, a blonde woman lost in thought picks flowers in a field under the tagline “aromatherapy diffuser – direct from nature to you.”

Obviously this approach fools no one and these guys know it, but by investing in an industry walking the fine line of the law, they’d rather keep a low profile. Others such as Toronto’s Ganja Yoga, not so much.