Home grown: Local family takes on Labrador City's cannabis sales

High North is Labrador's only legal cannabis retailer and one of a handful of independent shops in the province.

High North opened its doors at 4:20 yesterday afternoon

Brenda and Trevor Tobin stand in front of their new sign, which was thought up by Brenda's brother and designed by Trevor's wife. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Everyone in Canada had adjusting to do on Wednesday as recreational cannabis was legalized across the country, but the Tobin family in Labrador West had a few extra hurdles to jump to get ready for Oct. 17.

"We put everything in it we could possibly put in it, from the hours of work to money that we've had to come up with because there's zero funding," owner Brenda Tobin said.

Big companies like Canopy Growth and Loblaws account for a majority of the retailers in the province thus far. High North is among just a handful of independent retailers approved to sell cannabis in Newfoundland and Labrador.

With the Tweed store in Happy Valley-Goose Bay not scheduled to open until December, right now it is also the only legal cannabis shop in Labrador.

"There were lots of bumps in the road," said Trevor Tobin, who is the store's co-owner and Brenda's son.

One of those bumps is supply. Just three hours after their opening, the store was out of cannabis. They got about a seventh of the product they ordered, and they're not sure when they're getting more.

Banking bumps

The Tobins own two convenience stores in the community and say opening a bank account is usually no problem for a new business venture. Things were different this time, however.

The bank that they operate their other businesses with refused to let them open an account, they said, and even with legalization on the horizon, many other big banks had the same answer.

A family affair: Ed, Brenda, Trevor and Krissy are the owners of High North, Labrador's only legal cannabis shop. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"The minute you say you're selling cannabis, there was a big red flag up. [They] said that they can't give us an account and would freeze other accounts that we have," Trevor Tobin said. 

Eventually the Newfoundland and Labrador Credit Union did let the family open the business account.

"With that they'll probably receive all of our accounts," he said.

You're trying to do a good job but you're on such a budget.- Trevor Tobin

They faced similar problems with the company providing their debit machines, which meant it was cash-only on the opening day.

"We asked them to send one for this business and they said,'No, it's cannabis,' so they won't even send it to us," Trevor said.

But the Tobins found a way to get things up and running, paying, they estimate, more than $100,000 out of pocket. 

Trevor Tobin said that leaves them with a limited cash flow as they launch this new venture.

"Some of the colours in here were mixed from old paint that we had, and we had to mix them up just to save a dollar so that we could spend it on something else."

4:20

High North decided not to go with the early morning openings seen in centres like St. John's, opting to go with the symbolic 4:20 opening Wednesday afternoon.

Three hours later, they had run out of cannabis.

In cannabis culture, 4:20, 420 or 4/20 is slang for consuming cannabis.

"It's a historic time," store manager Steve Howell said.

Sarah Taylor was the first in line to buy the product.

"I'm buying a sativa and it's one of the strongest THC levels that they have on record," Taylor said.

"It's a huge milestone in Canadian history. Like, it's such an awesome thing to be part of — and especially to be first in line."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker reports on Labrador for CBC News from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.