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
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.”
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.