Re­tail ready for weed Wed­nes­day

Medicine Hat’s trio of mar­i­juana shops ex­pect to be busy when the doors open Oct. 17, hop­ing to of­fer a wel­com­ing place for recre­ational smok­ers old and new

Medicine Hat News - - FRONT PAGE - COLLIN GAL­LANT cgal­lant@medicine­hat­news.com Twit­ter: Collin Gal­lant

Crisp white walls, wain­scot­ing, and a long line of gleam­ing empty dis­play cases await cus­tomers seek­ing mar­i­juana next week at Green Ex­change, on S. Rail­way Street.

The ren­o­vated, al­most bou­tique-like store in the con­verted oil and gas of­fice will be one of three lo­cal en­tries to the new world of Cannabis re­tail.

It’s an up­scale at­mos­phere, mu­rals of New York City grace the walls along side flat screen tele­vi­sions that will list prod­ucts and prices, much like at a take-out restau­rant, but it’s much more like an optical or jew­elry store.

And that’s ex­actly what pot shop­keep­ers Chris and Terra Web­ber were go­ing for.

“I hope it’s lined up around the block,” said Web­ber, not­ing the decor is meant to ease the anx­i­ety of first-time cannabis buy­ers, and help erase the im­age of drug deals in al­ley ways.

“With the back­yard guy (sell­ing weed) you don’t know what you’re get­ting. Here you come in, check prices, have a nice ex­pe­ri­ence.”

They do ex­pect long line­ups on Oct. 17 when fed­eral laws against adult recre­ational use of cannabis are lifted.

Cana­di­ans in­clud­ing mil­lions of ex­ist­ing pot smok­ers will be able to shop, com­pare prices, pur­chase and pos­sess amounts of pot legally.

“It could be just shock and awe,” said Jay Hern, the Web­bers’ busi­ness part­ner. “It’s an in­ter­est­ing time, for sure, but that’s a good thing.”

The Green Ex­change is one of three shops that will open its doors for busi­ness on Oct. 17, along with West­side Weed, on the 900 block of S. Rail­way, and Waldo’s 420, next to Cross­roads Liquor store in the light in­dus­trial area.

Lo­cal busi­ness­man Patrick Wal­lace owns both the liquor store and mar­i­juana shop, as well as a con­ve­nience mart on the prop­erty, and he said de­vel­op­ing a busi­ness plan is dif­fi­cult in a largely un­known sec­tor.

Like ev­ery owner though, he pre­dicts suc­cess, and is try­ing to set his shop apart.

“We’re con­ve­nient,” said Wal­lace last week. “We’re in an area where we’re not go­ing to be sat­u­rated with stores like down­town, where there might be six open­ing up (even­tu­ally).”

About a dozen build­ing per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions have been ap­proved by the city, but only three lo­ca­tions in the Hat will be fully li­censed by the prov­ince and stocked on Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

West­side Weed is owned by lo­cal man Keith Ahlm. It is the first fam­ily busi­ness for him, and he tells the News that its ap­peal will be ca­ter­ing to lo­cal cus­tomers and a shop styled to bring in the ex­ist­ing cannabis com­mu­nity.

All three own­ers pre­dict a com­bi­na­tion of cu­rios­ity seek­ers and ded­i­cated mar­i­juana en­thu­si­asts will make up their cus­tomer base.

Cus­tomers, too, re­ally don’t know what to ex­pect. Af­ter years of ob­tain­ing their sup­ply il­le­gally, a dozen or more brands and strains that are here-to-fore un­known will be avail­able on shelves. It’ll be new to every­one. Ahlm sent out an email this week to po­ten­tial cus­tomers who signed up with a list of what is and what isn’t for sale.

Es­sen­tially, amounts of smok­able cannabis, oils and cap­sules, plus bongs and pa­pers, etc., are avail­able, but not ed­i­bles (such as pot brown­ies), starter plants or seeds, or oint­ments.

Also, it’s just bud, not deriva­tives like shat­ter or hash or other nar­cotics.

Nor can any store sell branded mer­chan­dise, or take out con­ven­tional ad­ver­tis­ing.

It’s led to a lot of dis­cus­sion and un­cer­tainty about what’s on of­fer, at what sort of prices, and stoked a lot of con­ver­sa­tion, said Patty Vivier, the owner of Hemp­town Rock.

The head shop has sold pot para­pher­na­lia in Medicine Hat for about a decade, and Vivier says every­one has booker con­trib­uted in a big way by do­nat­ing $5,000 out of his own pocket to­ward help­ing oth­ers who could not af­ford the $500 fee. town of red­cliff mayor dwight kil­patrick, who at­tended the meet­ing, said “it’s en­cour­ag­ing ... to see mem­bers will­ing to part, but is not re­ally sure what a le­gal pot uni­verse looks like.

She pre­dicts a lot of ac­tion in the ini­tial roll­out, but that it will die down.

“One day later, noth­ing will have changed,” she tells the News. “Peo­ple will still be hid­ing around cor­ners to smoke ... like they do now.”

Hemp­town cus­tomer Larry Beswick, as well, says Oct. 17 might be an event, but there’s a lot of ques­tions sur­round­ing le­gal pot.

“It’ll be like a Star Wars movie,” said Beswick. “Every­one will be ex­cited to see it at first, but who knows? I don’t think your typ­i­cal pot­head trusts cap­i­tal­ism.”

It’s a long­stand­ing joke to say that pot smok­ers are para­noid, but data sug­gests cannabis is more widely used than com­monly thought, among more de­mo­graph­ics, age groups and so­cial stratas.

Sta­tis­tics Canada be­lieves 4.2 mil­lion Cana­di­ans use mar­i­juana some­what reg­u­larly, and es­ti­mate that $5.5 bil­lion was spent on about 780 tonnes of black-mar­ket weed in 2017. That’s 14 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion aged 15 or older.

About a dozen lo­cal ap­pli­ca­tions for re­tail­ers at­tempt­ing to ob­tain li­cences and get started in the in­dus­try don’t re­ally have a par­al­lel to draw from.

What does de­mand look like when you end pro­hi­bi­tion on a drug that mil­lions of Cana­di­ans al­ready use?

What sort of cost curve and mar­gins are in­volved? Does the black mar­ket go away, or does the typ­i­cal drug war turn into a price war?

“I can’t see it not work­ing out here,” said Web­ber. “But it’s a big gam­ble and we’re the big­gest gam­blers.”

NEWS PHOTO COLLIN GAL­LANT

Jay Hern and Chris Web­ber stand be­hind the counter at The Green Ex­change, one of three cannabis re­tail shops in Medicine Hat that will be fully li­censed and op­er­at­ing on Oct. 17, when cannabis sales be­come le­gal across Canada.

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