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Retail Therapy

Posted by Emma Baron on

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Song of the Week - Shop Around by The Miracles

Solid advice from songwriter, Smokey Robinson. So solid that it was Motown's first million-seller, and the label's first hit in the US top ten. Are you a choosey cannabis shopper? Have you visited more than one dispensary, or just the local one closest to you? Wanna know what goes into our shopping decisions? Read on...
The Long Draw - Retail Therapy

As we countdown the last few months to the anniversary of legalization, it feels like we should be celebrating the best retail experiences in the new world of legal cannabis. The only thing is - we’ve barely had dispensaries in Ontario for a full quarter of the calendar. We’ve had the chance to visit a small selection of Ontario’s stores - and let’s just say, not all joints are rolled equally. 

Our first experience at a legal dispensary in Ontario was at Ameri, the second retail store to open in Toronto. For all of the hullabaloo from all political sides around legalization, the vibe at this Yorkdale shop was shockingly similar to many ‘legacy’ market dispensaries, a bit dark and gloomy, not much in the way of store fixtures or merchandising. We almost couldn’t tell the difference between Ameri and the former occupants of the space, MMJ Canada, except for the amount of packaging surrounding the cannabis.

Judging by the photos we’ve found online, Ameri seems to have added a bit of lighting and the requisite cannabis leaf decals to the walls since our first visit to the bare-bones store. Lipstick on a pig? We’re curious about how the lack of investment in a brand experience will play out over the long run.

We had the opportunity to visit Choom on a recent road trip down to Niagara for some berry picking. The very opposite of Ameri, Choom’s branding extended to the astro-turf covered sidewalk in front of their location within the Niagara Square Shopping Centre. The inside of the joint felt a bit like a cross between a surf camp and a coffee shop waiting for it’s espresso machine to arrive.

A highly curated experience, Choom feels something like ‘eternal summer’ with a live plant wall, branded cannabis videos playing on screens, and a sitting area (the luxury of retail space costs outside of the big smoke). All in all, not a bad experience.

Nova was our favourite of the three cannabis stores we’ve visited so far for one key reason: deli-style product display. While they had the touchscreen navigation point featured in most dispensaries, they also have a long glass showcase featuring all the cannabis in stock. Why do we care? - because this means employees can easily find you the FRESHEST cannabis that’s available. If you’re looking for the smoothest cannabis experience, you’ll want to look for buds that have the most recent packaging date available. 

Granted, the creative potential for retail dispensaries is currently capped by some specifics of the regulations. Retailers can’t sell anything except cannabis and accessories, ruling out offerings like refreshments, clothing, or sporting goods. An honourable mention goes out to Superette in Ottawa - we’ve been drooling over their super hip store concept with a retro convenience vibe, but have not yet been able to experience it.

For what the future of cannabis retail might hold, we looked at a couple established companies in the United States.

Serra is where the design world finds a home in cannabis. Listed by taste-maker publications like Design Milk, Wallpaper, and Architectural Digest, Serra is where you take your WASPy Aunt Sharon for a stern-but-softening nod of approval. They call their staff members ‘docents’ instead of budtenders, likening the service approach to a guided tour of your options instead of a pushy sales experience. 

Harbourside holds a very special place in the global dispensary community, for a few reasons. The founder and CEO, Steve DeAngelo, is a long-time advocate for the legalization of cannabis. He has written a lot on the subject, and his latest campaign: the Last Prisoner Project is working towards the expungement of cannabis records worldwide. Harbourside was one of the first six dispensaries established in the United States. They offer their patient-members an array of free health services, including acupuncture, yoga, Reiki, and others.
Yes, yes we know, we're always so Toronto-focused. Good news: we've got a road trip to Calgary planned for August. Is there a great dispensary in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, or Alberta that you think we should visit? Let us know!
The News

A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step: obtaining a special event permit. It's that small detail that seems to be the point of contention between organizers of the Journey Festival and the city of Vaughan. Organizers had obtained permission for the event from the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, who own Boyd Conservation Park, and say that they had been in meetings with the city about the special event permit. The city of Vaughan, on the other hand, doesn't know what the organizers are talking about? Their official statement:

“No special event permits were applied for or issued for this event (Journey Cannabis & Music Festival) by the City of Vaughan. Smoking By-law – No. 074-2019 has been under development since 2018. This by-law introduces new regulations for smoking of tobacco, vaping and cannabis, further aligned with the provincial government’s Smoke Free Ontario Act. The timing of the adoption of the by-law was based on public process and reasonable timelines, following the passage of the legalization of recreational cannabis which took place in Oct. 2018. It should be noted that following a Special Committee of the Whole meeting on Jan. 21, Council endorsed Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua’s motion to opt-out from allowing licensed retail cannabis stores to operate in Vaughan.”

The only impossible journey is the one you never begin? Also, Vaughan really hates cannabis, noted!
The Social Calendar
Have a great weekend!

- Emma & Carol
Milkweed website

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