New Brunswick

What small-town New Brunswick has to say about the 1st anniversary of legal weed

The village of Perth-Andover features many things found in small New Brunswick communities, but it has one thing most don't: a Cannabis NB store. Thursday marks one year since it opened, and residents still have plenty to say about the presence of legal weed in their town.

'It certainly attracts people to our community from other municipalities, from other parts of the province'

It's been one year since Cannabis NB opened its doors along the Trans-Canada Highway in Perth-Andover. The store has received mixed reviews from residents and visitors alike. (Elizabeth Fraser/CBC)

Perth-Andover features everything that any small New Brunswick town might — a coffee shop where seniors can catch up on the latest news over lunch, stop signs instead of traffic lights, a random horse running through a community parking lot.

But the village also has something other rural communities lack — its own weed store, which has been around for exactly one year today. 

The Cannabis NB store sits propped up on a hill, right off the Trans-Canada Highway, wedged between Tim Hortons and NB Liquor on one side and a Shell gas station on the other. To make things interesting, a hearse for sale has recently been parked out front of the building.

The store has been a huge attraction for drivers stopping for a bathroom break or for people intrigued by the rural store, almost 200 kilometres northwest of Fredericton.

Helene Levesque started smoking weed when she was 16. At first the drug helped with chronic pain and now she uses it to relax. (CBC News)

"Even though people don't smoke marijuana, they just kind of want to come see because they're curious," said Helene Levesque. 

The 21-year-old University of New Brunswick student was driving to Fredericton from her parents' home in Grand Falls this week. She pulled into Perth-Andover because she wanted to buy some pre-rolls. And it's the closest store to her hometown, almost 40 kilometres away.

"I feel like it's very normalized, especially now having been a year since it opened," said Levesque. 

'Not really seen as something bad'

The university student has been smoking weed since she was 16. 

At first, Levesque used it for chronic pain, but now she does it for pleasure and as a way to relax.  

I don't support the government because they arrested people a lot before for weed and put them in jail.- Jamol Ross

"In my generation, it's not really seen as something bad compared to my parents' generation," said the philosophy student.

Christine Rankin is originally from Saint John but was recently harvesting potatoes in the area.

She said the store is necessary in a community like Perth-Andover, where a lot of people rely on marijuana to relieve pain.

"If it works for people than why not use it? My brother uses it because he suffers from arthritis, back problems. He smokes two or three joints a day."

Christine Rankin says people in rural communities need to be more open-minded about using cannabis. (CBC News)

Rankin has heard some people make comments about residents using the drug, and she said it's time for people to be more open-minded.

"People need to be made aware," she said. "I find in villages or small cities, small towns, they're kind of stuck in their ways … The younger generation, of course, they're for it, but not the older generation."

Pot offers new hope for village

Dan Dionne, chief administrative officer for the village, said the new cannabis store is helping the village's local economy, especially after 100 jobs were lost in the 2012 flood. 

The store brought 10 jobs to Perth-Andover since it opened last year. 

"It certainly attracts people to our community from other municipalities, from other parts of the province," he said. "It's a great location right up by the highway."

Due to the store's location, Dionne said he believes the store is serving more people passing through the area than its population of about 2,000 people. 

"It's certainly nice to see investment come back into the community," he said. 

Just pure weed

Jamol Ross was driving through New Brunswick, on his way back to his home in Montreal, when he spotted the Cannabis NB store on Route 2. 

The 29-year-old soccer coach pulled over because he wanted to take a look inside and see what the store had to offer.

"It's not smelling so strong like you buy on the street," he said. "That means it's more pure because on the street, they put [in] a lot of chemicals."

Jamol Ross was driving past Perth-Andover on the Trans-Canada Highway when he noticed the Cannabis NB store and wanted to stop in. (CBC News)

Ross, who is from the Grenadines and smokes weed, said he was impressed by the store's location and how it was set up inside. However, he still refuses to buy his cannabis through government stores. 

"I don't support the government because they arrested people a lot before for weed and put them in jail," he said.

"So I'm not going to pay money for them. Maybe one day I might, just to try it. But if I want to be a regular smoker, I won't buy from them."

'A bad investment'

Not everyone is high on Cannabis NB.

Perth-Andover resident Lucien Tremblay said the store should have never been built in the first place and the building should be torn down.

"It's a bad investment because it's not going to make any money like they planned to," he said.

Lucien Tremblay lives in Perth-Andover and says the new store is a waste of money and he hopes it will be torn down soon. (CBC News)

According to Cannabis New Brunswick's 2018-2019 annual report, the Perth-Andover store had revenues of $590,000. 

That's about $1 million less than sales at the top store on Wyse Street in Moncton.

Meanwhile, Cannabis NB in Richibucto had the least amount of revenues compared to the 19 other Cannabis NB stores. The store earned almost $361,000 in a town of about 1,300 people. 

Marie-Andrée Bolduc, a spokesperson for Cannabis NB, said stores like the one in Perth-Andover were placed in areas to ensure access to a safe, regulated produced, and the opportunity to speak with a well-train member of Cannabis NB.

"Even though we are a small province in terms of population the decision was made to ensure enough stores, strategically located to ensure accessibility across the province," she said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

She said Cannabis NB is continuing to have a wide variety of products at different price points to increase its competitiveness, while attracting new customers.

It’s been a year since weed was legalized in Canada, but what do the people in a small village like Perth-Andover think about Cannabis NB? 1:58

"Over the past year, we have been working with our existing licensed producer partners to improve supply and price, as well as adding additional suppliers to offer a broader spectrum of products and prices, and fill portfolio gaps we experienced due to shortages at launch," she said. 

Meanwhile, Cannabis NB overall lost $2.2 million in the first quarter of its fiscal year. 

Sales were an average of $700,000 per week during the quarter. That's worse than sales recorded in Cannabis NB's disappointing first fiscal year, which averaged just over $784,000 per week.   

Right now, government is reviewing the retail model and conducting an analysis of possible options for the business. 

Getting weed elsewhere

Although Tremblay doesn't have a problem with people using drugs for medical purposes, he does feel the area has a serious drug problem. And he said a new Cannabis NB store won't diminish the local black market.

Tremblay said he's particularly worried about his own family getting their hands on cannabis, which he refers to as a gateway drug for harder substances.

"That's not going to stop the drug dealers. They're still around."

Cannabis NB can be seen off the Trans-Canada Highway while driving past the village of Perth-Andover. (CBC News)

According to Statistics Canada, 61 per cent of people who consume cannabis are still buying their products from illegal markets in the 2019 quarter.

Tremblay is hopeful government will put more resources into cracking down on the black market instead. 

"We're on a bad slope with our society," he said. "And I don't think that building should've been put up there to begin with."

About the Author

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

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