Marijuana entrepreneur enthused by province's pot plan, hoping to become legal dispensary

Ross Barney likes what he is hearing from the provincial government's plan on legal marijuana.

Province considers licencing private businesses to sell marijuana

Ross Barney and his business partners took a chance getting into the marijuana business early, with hopes of someday being a legal dispensary. (Ryan Cooke/CBC)

Ross Barney and his business partners rolled the dice in opening a marijuana shop in downtown St. John's — and it appears they may have won.

Just 48 hours prior to the official opening of the Greenery café and head shop, CBC broke news of the province's possible plan for legalizing marijuana.

Sources say government is looking at private businesses, like the Greenery, to operate as marijuana dispensaries when the federal government brings in legalization July 1, 2018.

"We were speculating this last couple months as we were planning the store," Barney said. "Thinking about how the Newfoundland government was going to handle it, I think this is the most logical step. So we're very excited about this."

As part of their planning, the Greenery is opening as a legal enterprise — just selling smoking and growing accessories, with a small café in the back of the shop.

They hope to establish a loyal customer base before legalization comes into effect, at which point they hope to be one of the province's licensed sellers.

Sources say dispensaries may be regulated by the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation.

The Greenery is setting up on the east-end of Duckworth Street in St. John's, with a grand opening planned for Nov. 19 at 6:30 p.m. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

So far, Ontario and New Brunswick have opted to allow marijuana to be sold only in buildings owned and operated by their provincial alcohol and gaming commissions.

When looking at breaking into the market, the Greenery owners did their research and bet against Newfoundland and Labrador taking this approach.

Barney said the province didn't appear to have the infrastructure available, or enough time to build marijuana-specific stores. This was one of the major reasons they decided to take a chance in entering the industry early.

Barney and his partners were not the first entrepreneurs to get into the mix.

Several other marijuana-related businesses have popped up in St. John's in the past year, including two the police deemed illegal dispensaries.

The province will likely set the legal age at 19, and gather between $20 million and $40 million annually in taxes. Barney expects the tax to amount to $1 per gram.

He hopes legalization will cut into the black market, reduce the amount of opiate and opioid use in the province, and give money back to the government for good uses.

The Greenery is selling tents that help people grow their own plants. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

"If the money generated from selling marijuana in Newfoundland goes to help our health-care system, I'm all for it," Barney said.

The Greenery will have its official launch Sunday evening, 6:30 p.m., with a bluegrass band welcoming new customers to the shop.

By the time next summer rolls around, Barney hopes those customers will still be there — but will be leaving with some grass of their own.

"I'm holding my breath," he said. "But I'm very optimistic about the future."