E38 - Small Town Alberta

Kirk travels back to familiar territory. The master of the cold-call finds opportunity to bring listeners a couple Cannabis stories while visiting his Alberta family. Canadian listeners will remember how the hamlet of Lac La Biche helped the citizens of Fort McMurry after the great fire of May 2016. During his visit to this beautiful lake side community, Kirk spoke with the owner of Equilibrium, Lac La Biche’s first independent retail cannabis store. He then happened upon the grand opening of Spiritleaf, where he spoke with the happy owners of this franchise store. In this episode we learn from these front-line retailers about the Alberta market place and how a small town Alberta is not going without.  Alberta is kicking butt and taking names when it comes to legal Cannabis Retail.  Hey Ontario and BC, maybe you need a lesson from Wild Rose Country?


This Episode is sponsored by Strain Print

Monday, 14 October 2019 20:13

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Episode Transcript

Equilibrium Interview

Derek:  my name is Derek Ewaskiw.  I'm manager and owner of Equilibrium Cannabis in Lac La Biche Alberta

Kirk: And is this a. Is this just like a franchise store or is your store.

Derek: We'd love it to be a franchise store but it is currently just the single story . Me and my partner Jerry Webster. Yeah okay.

Kirk: So tell me about opening up the. Opening of a cannabis store in Alberta.

Derek: Oh it was quite the experience we started off almost two years ago. We decided to do this. So we just started researching and we traveled to Vancouver to check out what was going on there. And. We just put together ideas and when we were ready we got everything. Built. And the store was ready to go. Come November. And then that's approximately right when the moratorium hit. And that's when we got stuck with a store that was ready to go and we had to wait for the last eight or nine months

Kirk:  Moratorium what moratorium.

Derek:  They basically didn't go on anymore licenses after that I think they released about 60 of them or seventy five of them. And then they stopped because there was a lack of stock for the industry. So. We were kind of hand-held in that sense where we couldn't basically move forward and it has the license we had we didn't even get the license they actually put a moratorium on the license itself.  The shop was ready to go. We just we couldn't. We couldn't open. You can't really sell cannabis anyways. We were they were they said we could open up and sell accessories and stuff but we wanted to be able to open our doors and actually have product. It was just a better way to serve the community not since not trying to trickle out some.  Some sort of, you know, existence because when people walk in and we can't give them what they want they might get a bad taste no matter what the store is like. So we wanted to keep it positive for.

Kirk:  Okay so here you are a mom and pop business.  Is that is different is it different for Alberta. Like I am from Manitoba I think most are corporate stores

Derek:  They might be I'm not sure exactly how it is over there but yeah Alberta has given us free reign to open up our own shops and

Kirk: (Great a customer just walked in). So do you buy a product from all over Canada like.

Derek:  We purchased from AGLC.  They kind of dictate what we can and can't get. Because they do the purchasing

Kirk:  So you're a you're independent store but you are part of a provincial distribution.

Derek:  Yes very similar to like liquor in the sense that when you purchase they have an order form and they give that's given out every week.

Kirk:  I see that's the government organization. Oh OK. All right.

Derek: Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis right.

Kirk:  So, you buy from them and they then buy from all over and I guess all cannabis stores do that.

Derek:  They all do.

Kirk:  So when I talked to Spiritleaf they do the same. Do you choose what you want, do you always have certain…

Derek: Don't always have the unfortunate thing is is we're only given a certain list that we're allowed to order from. And if they have it then we can get it. But if they have like lesser quantities it goes into like a lottery and basically go up against anybody else that may be wanting it. Then it's randomly chosen for whoever places the order. So, we can place an order for X amount of dollars but we might only get us a lesser percentage of that.   

Kirk: So you're not guaranteed to get the product.

Derek: not everything.

Kirk: Now how do you how do you run a business like that horribly. Yeah.

Derek: It's not the most efficient way but it's the only way we can do right now until more product is available and consistently available.

Kirk: So, you you're competing with another store in town obviously. Yeah. You've been you've been solo here for how long.

Derek:  A month and a half. OK. Forty-five days roughly.

Kirk: So businesses flourishing.

Derek: It's good. It's not what everybody thinks it is it's not like crazy money. It's like any other regular store. As far as I'm concerned you know we're just have a unique product that's new. So it's gonna be a little more popular then right. Just most other shops.

Kirk: So when you buy from when you buy from the government then the government distribution your markup is set or can you market.

Derek: We do what we can market up anything we like. Right now there are no restrictions on that. There may be in the future they have spoke about it but currently you're allowed to set your own prices and you can either competitive or make extra cash if you like it's up to you

Kirk: Now in Alberta you're allowed to like as a customer Am I allowed to touch and smelling and play with the product.

Derek: Unfortunately, there are some major restrictions for that. Basically though the best you can do to actually see cannabis prior to purchasing is if there is some set out in the sensory displays, like we have there. Other than that it's try and test you know you won't be able to see it until you pop it open when you get home.

Kirk:  In Alberta have any tastings or like you'd like. You know the liquor you

Derek: Nothing specifically set through the shops themselves but I'm sure that one could do that outside of you know the regulations that AGLC imposes on us. But you'd have to do it not through the company and like maybe personally be able to do it.

Kirk:  So if I wanted to go like I'm going to a social tonight. Yeah. Right so there's booze at the social. Right. We just bought it down Street at Fozi’s. Yeah. So. So can I come here and can I get a cannabis license in Alberta. So at social I can have cannabis.

Derek: Absolutely in fact today. This weekend is the first cannabis license that was drawn up for outside use at a recreational event. No kidding. A wedding is a wedding happening. I think it's at the Kinsman grounds I believe. OK. But yeah, the it's a buddy mine and they were the first ones to get their very first cannabis permit so that they could legally smoke.

Kirk:  No kidding. So at a social.  Do they buy their product from you now.

Derek:  Yes. And you know currently it's just you come in and get what you want and then smoke it while you're there. Yeah. I foresee a future where it will be just like when you get a license for the wedding or any kind of a bondspiel where you purchase a cannabis package that you can sell at your event distribute and then bring about what you don't use Kirk: Like you do liquor l

Derek: Like they do liquor.

Kirk: So, this one your buddy bought then he bought just to allowing people in a public area and

Derek:  it just allows people in the public area. But it doesn't give anybody right to purchase

Kirk:  Okay the Kinsmen ground is a big open camping field.

Derek: My mistake I think it's actually at the McArthur so.

Kirk: OK. That would make more sense it does so at MacArthur place. People would have to go step outside. Right.

Derek: Yes it is it is mandatory to be outside very similar to smoking and it's several segregated from basically the rest of the party goers all.

Kirk: So they had to say this is the cannabis area.

Derek: This is a designated cannabis. They had to set up like fencing around it.   Oh no kidding. Yeah.

Kirk: Geez, I should go and have a look at that.

Derek: I would I would go check it out and you can take a look at one of our first like officials first the license the event license event.

Kirk: I'm going to my own 70th anniversary..

Derek: So Jimmy Hamar.

Kirk:  Jim and Sophie out at Craigend. Yeah. Oh nice. So there has to be a big Social. So what what should my podcast listeners know about your business about Alberta. What can you tell us. You said to listen to my part guide you. What did you say. If I ever got into you I'd say.

Derek:  I mean you know it it's honestly truly an honor to be able to be in this business where we are creating history right now. This is an amazing time for Alberta and Canada in general. You know to be part of this to shape it truly is an honor. And I'm very lucky is not the right word because we worked hard for this yet but we're enjoying this. This new industry it's been fun to be the liaison to the to the community to introduce and educate all the new cannabis products and to hopefully switch people out of the illegal market and keep it out of the hands of kids. I think it's a fantastic opportunity and we're just overjoyed to be doing it.

Kirk:  So as far as the new guy in town has town leadership come to you for advice to have people come to you on all

Derek: everyday everyday.  Yeah. A lot of people coming in just wanting to know what cannabis is how it works what they should get. And it just it's been super fun and just to be able to

Kirk: turn them on to a podcast.

Derek: Well I will actually.  I found out about you guys was actually through Michael. I started listening to him because I just did a random Canadian cannabis podcast search when I first started looking into becoming a cannabis entrepreneur and I didn't want to get information from. So I thought well the Internet. And so I found Michael’s his podcast and I started listening to his and was fantastic and it was very informative in the beginning and then when you guys did the Cannabis Media Collective I was so excited because now all these extra guys coming in and I start listening guys is everyone because he's a much more informed than some of the other guys. Thank you. Yeah So I do listen to yours and Michael's for sure and no I just it's it's a great form of information and your medical background plays great for information that I sadly can't use in the store.

Kirk: Well but you can you can I can I can. Yeah.

Derek: I mean at least I know what I should be talking about. If somebody comes in and asks me yeah. I mean obviously I can't give any medical advice but at least I understand what it is they may be looking for and what may help them in some way.

Kirk: That’s cool I am glad the podcast does that

Derek: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Kirk: It's just this is a neat quaint little store.

Derek: That's what we wanted all these other brand new stores came in and all these big money corporations that you know hey look at all these big new chains before this industry even started. As far as I'm concerned this is our chain now and we like the tininess of this it's manageable. What would a part of what my business partner and I did when you went to Vancouver to check out all these stores. We notice that they're just tiny little shops with the wall obviously little jars in the back which we can't do now. But we felt that we didn't eat a whole lot of space. And I like it because you can come in and everything is right here within view right to the tip right to the till and out the door and you get what you need.

Kirk: So, you've got quite a selection.

Derek: We actually do and that's another thing that's a huge. It is being in that being in a small town. The demand isn't as high because we don't have such a high populous that's looking for cannabis. So in the cities with so few stores still there to get bought out have way like even before you know anybody else who just doesn't have to walk in. Not on an order day when everybody shows up for what they can get their hands on. Well, all we consistently have a great selection where we're very lucky and to be allowed that so.

Kirk:  So how is cannabis sent to you like obviously you have a safe in the back. Yes. And so how is cannabis sent to is it sent to like two bricks.

Derek: Or like how it's on a pallet. It's our pallets. I see. There's small boxes it's but it's not in an armored car. It's not. No it's on a unassuming transport medical. Yeah. OK.

Kirk:  And I mean do you guys do it yourself.  

Derek:  it's it's all done through the AGLC see it's all handled through them.

Kirk: They they. They deliver it all.

Derek: Yeah. Yeah. And it's just very very casual and my very casual.

Kirk: Yeah. And then you slammed into it guys you are especially humidity control back there.

Derek No no no it just stays in the plastic container to keep. Once it's in the plastic container it's good and like the security. Door it's facing the security arm is enclosed so it maintains everything in the freshest is within the sealed container.

Kirk: All right so you've got all this stuff behind glass that's all empty or

Derek: No those are full. Okay. We just wanted to put out one of each of a sample just to show people kind of that it looks like the samples you have that's every single piece of cannabis that we can sell.

Kirk: That is a lot of product. Yeah. For a small little store you have a big product.

Derek: We do. We wanted to make sure our customers had a great selection and we wanted that feeling of. We're neighbors right and friends. So we swear along the store we joke around and we don't give two shits because this is our place in our space and you can do what the hell we want with it set.

Kirk: So in Alberta you're allowed to Lac La Biche you're allowed to smoke outside but you have to be so many meters from the door.

Derek: No. Every single municipality has its own rules. Now it can differ from being able to smoke right outside on the sidewalk to nowhere but your own property.  And right now that's a lack of bishops is basically no public spaces especially where there's children and it has to be either done either in public or some of private area and owned residents or one designated area

Kirk: OK see that's out all of Manitoba and all Manitoba. The only place you consume cannabis is at home.

Derek: OK. And then like a municipality next door can have completely different rules they can say smoke down the street and not care but every single town municipality basically made their own got to make their own rules.

Kirk: And how do you think law enforcement's dealing with cannabis. Has there been any issues.

Derek: The same freaking way they've been doing at the however umpteen years that it's been illegal.

Kirk:  In what way.

Derek:  Nothing's changed.  Nothing's changed. I mean I know that they've they said that oh you know we need all these resources can all these young people are going to smoking. That didn't happen. The people who were smoking were still smoking. Nothing really has been blown out of proportion in the sense that people aren't committing crimes now or doing these things illegally. It's just now it's a legal product rather than a illegal product to purchase. So I think that people are still just using it the same way they always have. So there was no need to basically go so deep into how do you get all the regulation and regulation

Kirk: But the law enforcement they're not.  I mean if somebody's like if someone buys a pre-trial hearing and walks out here and lights up and goes for a walk. Yeah. And cop is a cop going to bother to pull over do they do that.

Derek:  I hope they do. Really. Yeah. Because I mean that's still breaking the law. It's like cracking open a beer when you walk out of a liquor store. You can't do so. I mean until we have open liquor policies here in Alberta that that's going to be the way

Kirk:  That is a good way to look at it. In other municipalities somebody could do just that.

Derek: Yes in some municipalities where it is allowed and that's exactly what they can do is walk out the door and spark up. But in that sense though it does give the other communities their power to enforce the way they want right.

Kirk:  You're right. Because if a municipalities is easy with it and if another municipality, such as Manitoba we do have some tight communities that they just recently just got alcohol. So, those communities don't want and some communities don’t care.

Derek: Don't quote me on this is just rumor but I've heard that they didn't want anything. anything cannabis related in fact they're not even the stores, which is too bad because that's where we wanted to look to expand and open up a lot more pocket shops like this because we find that the smaller shops with the lower overhead and requiring only one staff. Probably be a faster better way to go. I mean you don't need a big production that doesn't have to be grand looks like an Apple I store. I think this is all you need or less to make a go of it.

Kirk:  Yeah well your competitors they have three or four people in there like I mean it's a bigger shop. Yeah. But yeah you're right that that is an interesting observation. This is a pocket shop. I like that description.

Derek: Yes. That's. That's my own. I came up with I thought you know if we should use some stores let's do some like little guys all over the place

Kirk: So Equilibrium Why Equilibrium?

Derek: Well originally when we started pre-legalization, we saw a place called Remedy, I liked their logo and the idea it was healing and we thought Equilibrium it’s a neat balance, it's not specifically health related but it's a cool science fiction kind of name. And then once legalization happened and they're like Okay you can't talk anything about medical. I was like oh damn. But the name still pretty cool so he kept it. (customer walked it) Hello there. Hi. How you doing.

Kirk:  And the Equilibrium works, and the endocannabinoid systems is all about equilibrium.

Derek: It does, it is. Which is why we like the name. In fact the AGLC inspector commented. He says you see a lot of names a lot of stores he goes, yours is actually one of the nicer ones and I sure would like your logo.  I was as a graphic designer before this. So everything here was designed by me

Kirk:  This is a lovely shop.

Derek: This is what I like about small towns. That was my neighbor. It’s cool, you get the you can sell to everybody and it's it's that the small town stores I really like. You know.  Of course you lose that, that closeness with people especially in the city. You have to like to garner those relationships where as here, they're premade and we  sell to your friends

Kirk: Ewaskiw that is local name right.

Derek: Yes it is. Yeah. My father's in the back.

Kirk: Whats his name?

Derek: Ray.

Kirk: Ray Ewaskiw, I know Ray we worked together at Portage college we were taught college probably. AVC – Lac La Biche

Derek: The support from my parents has been just incredible.

Kirk: Well what's interesting Like you say, you know, back in the day when I was a kid my parents were spanking me for after cannabis and we were back in the day at the college we would have to hide from it.  We use to have some great parties at the college, back When when when Langford was running the place was great. And but now it's all open. Like you say “my son's in the cannabis business.”

Derek: Something mildly interesting happened to us recently as are Facebook basically got shut down. Oh. So obviously with the new Regulations in Canada and it being legal Facebook is still owned in the United States and federally it's still illegal there. Basically what happened was they allowed, they did allow some cannabis stores to run a Facebook page but we recently got shut down due to posting just pictures of the boxes of cannabis.  So we're right now working to get that back up. We don't know what will happen. We hope we can get back up because we had a really nice following of people.   Oh yeah. And. It was part of the way. The only part of the way basically to promote because any kind of promotion outside the shop is basically forbidden.  So, I mean the only way to touch to get a finger on the pulse of the public is. Not everybody goes a web page every day but they will go to Facebook every day.

Kirk: like Instagram.  People's Instagram pages we're always being shut down.

Derek:  Our Instagram is still good. They did leave that alone.

Kirk: on your Facebook can you actually buy from your Facebook.

Derek:  No, I'll just. That's still technically not allowed. You can't purchase outside of the store. You can order online but you still have to pick up in store.

Spirit Leaf Interview

Justin: My name is Justin Buttner.

Kirk:  This is your grand opening year. Spirit leaf explains spirit leaf is this a franchise store.

Justin: Yes it is.

Kirk: How many stores in Alberta.

Cecil:  Sixteen. We're up to 20 stores as of today.

Kirk:  20 stores in Alberta

Cecil: Throughout Canada. The majority of our stores are currently in Alberta.

Kirk:  OK. And your name sir is Cecil Horowitz. And you're the regional manager

Cecil: Business development director.

Kirk: Where's the head office.

Justin: It's out of Calgary.

Kirk: OK. So, tell me about Canada's industry in Alberta.

Cecil: It's flourishing now at least in Alberta. You know there's obviously been you know ongoing challenges but where we're at now it's it's you know we're there, we are open.  We finally have our stores open and we're you know starting to get enmeshed within these communities and our cannabis stores. And it's super exciting. I think it's gone really well. You know if you look at Ontario obviously it's not the same. Yeah not the same story but. We're getting headway in British Columbia where we're doing well in Alberta. And you know if you take a look at you know where cannabis was you know six months ago compared to where it is now you know supply is not an issue so much anymore and things are really coming together.

Kirk: So Spirit leaf is a retail outlet. Do you have your own grow.

Cecil:  No we do have partnerships with several licensed producers within Canada, that that we work with and we're strictly a retail player. We know retail we've been in the retail business for over 20 years, and we're strictly a retail player. That's what we know best. We don't want to get into distribution or production or anything like that.

Kirk: Are you focusing in small communities especially for small community retailers.

Cecil:  Oh I mean because we're an Alberta born and bred company. You know we're very familiar with small communities that make the economy go around in Alberta especially, and so we've really gotten a nice mixture between corporate stores and franchise stores in the communities that we think will really benefit from the harm reduction that we can provide and keeping things safe from you know the children and public. And so yeah that extends into the smaller communities we certainly support that and have quite a few stores going up around in smaller communities in Alberta.

Kirk: That's very cool. Now Spirit Leaf, do you have an Aboriginal connection

Cecil:  The Aboriginal connection that we have is we're part of the legacy fund for The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack. So that is the fund that we have the organization that we have decided to to partner with him promote in order to help create spaces for reconciliation for Aboriginal people.  And so we do create legacy rooms in different locations across the country where we can hold these spaces for reconciliation

Kirk: that's where you put some of some of your profits going to that.

Cecil: Yeah absolutely. So the money that comes back towards that goes towards a legacy fund is really to help create reconciliation spaces for the Aboriginal community in Canada.

Kirk:  Oh very cool. Okay.  And so this is this is the first day this door is open

Cecil:  So, this store had a soft opening for the last couple days but today is the grand opening here in Lac La Biche. and it's been wonderful. You know there's a lot of community support. There's been people coming in and out all day long and it's really nice to see a store get its roots in the community where the people that own it are from

Kirk: So thank you.  OK wonderful. And so explain I'm sorry what was Darren, Justin so Justin are you the manager here or a part owner.  

Justin: I am one of the owners, but Darren runs the boat.  

Kirk: Darren OK so he's your partner all right.

Justin:  He’s my my boss but I'm his boss too at the same time. All right but that's the real boss right there don't upset the lady that runs the numbers.

Kirk: OK. All right. So explain Lac La Biche’s market. What do you know about it.

Justin: I've been smoking 20 years and I've been buying off some pretty seedy guys and now that we're actually open it's it's a completely different ballgame now. All right. Let's not just take it or leave it it's like you can see there's so much stuff to go through.

Kirk: So who are some of the growers that you get your product from

Cecil: Aurora. We have a partnership with Upcannabis. So Upcannabis you know Canopy Quest, tantalum is Aurora, Broken Coast, Seven Acre.  We do have a long deep relationship with up Cannabis. We do really try to to promote and bring people into look at what products they have to as well. So we are we. We generally carry everything across the board and we want it. We want to bring in quality products for a good price. And again make sure that we're creating a safe environment for the community.

Kirk: So I'm from I'm from Manitoba explained to me the difference with the laws of Alberta. Like in Alberta can you step outside and smoke a reefer in the sidewalk.

Cecil:  Right,  you generally depends on each municipality. So there's the provincial rule that came down and then each municipality can sort of mess with that. Generally, you have to be 10 meters away from the front entrance of any business or door. So like smoking cigarette.  Exactly. So similar where you can smoke is where you can smoke cannabis as well. In Edmonton for instance they're basically either, there's so many places you can walk down an alley and smoke you can walk down a street and smoking is no problem as long as you're 10 meters away from a door whereas there's other municipalities where you're very limited to where you can

Kirk:  What about Lac La Biche county

Cecil: Lac La Biche County I believe is 10 meters from from each door and and ends in certain you know pre allocated areas and in the privacy here and in the privacy of your own home. Yeah. Don't be a jerk. Yeah. Absolutely. OK. That being said I don't really know too many cannabis smokers that are jerks. Yeah I know it's pretty mellow. Yeah yeah.

Kirk: So tell me something about Alberta. I've been coming through like Lac La Biche often on visiting relatives and the stores took a while to open why is that like October 18th. You guys weren't open.

Cecil: Yeah I was. You know we had all are leases and it is and retail shops in place and ready to go and and then you know supply was an issue right out of the gate.  And you know once supply you know didn't become an issue any longer, things started going full full speed ahead and you know essentially within a three month period you know everything was really online so. And they're getting better and better. You know they're very receptive and they're starting to carry more and more licensed producers and you know we still haven't even gotten the craft producers right it yet. So wait for the craft producers.

Kirk: Do you think Alberta gonna allow Craft Producers.

Cecil:  There's several.  They are open to it. They are because they want you know they need to stock up their warehouses AGLC as well so. And they recognize that people want to support Alberta craft the Alberta craft markets.

Kirk: But it isn't also the craft market towards supplying the black market.

Cecil:  You know essentially I mean especially in B.C. that that's the case.  There's a lot of companies that that have you know gone above and beyond to you know follow regulatory procedures to become Craft growers that were not involved in the gray market or black market before too. So, there's a little bit of both of those things.

Kirk: When I go to B.C. that is hard pressed to find a retail store.

Cecil: Yeah I mean that's you know. I mean you know they have such a long history and you know they supported the gray market for so many years and now there's you know all these you know legitimate business owners in a sense they were legitimate but in a sense they were also breaking the law. So I think that B.C. is trying to do a decent job in trying to grandfather some of these legitimate businesses and it's just taking them a little bit longer. You know we have six stores in B.C. or you know currently and so we've been able to get into you. Yeah the province with great impact.

Kirk: So now we're in Lac La Biche.  So let's let's get something like this guys do you just opened what brought you to the cannabis industry.

Justin:  I was tired of working for somebody else basically. Yeah and we were eventually going to open a water store that fell through and then it's like what are we going to do.   And I remember hearing on 630CHED Darren was on I just typed in Spirit Leaf in to the Google machine and arranged a meeting with Cecil here and we went down talk with him. Yeah everything seems good and then we've just been waiting and getting the store ready and now it’s finally happening.

Kirk:  So you have partners you've got three people in the partnership.

Justin: Oh yeah. Irene and I are the owners and we have Darren running as the manager.

Kirk:  OK. Well thank you very much. Is there anything you would like podcast listeners to know about Spirit Leaf about your business in Lac La Biche.

Cecil: I mean I just think that you know there's a lot of choices on the market and you know make sure you go into a shop where you feel comfortable with education that you're getting and the people that you're dealing with and you know consider low supporting a local owner operators just because they're it's a franchise doesn't mean it's not a local owner operator and I think that's what makes us really special.

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