Cannabusiness is booming on P.E.I.
'How often does a billion-dollar industry appear overnight?'
Now that cannabis is legal in Canada, new businesses are cropping up on P.E.I. and existing ones are exploring opportunities to grow.
From equipment and advice to grow it and accessories to smoke it, lots of Islanders are hoping to get a slice of the pot pie.
If you build local, supply local, employ local, locals will support local product.— Khurram Malik, Biome Grow
"There's a whole market out there, there's a whole world that are looking at Canada as a cannabis-friendly, legal place to visit," said Kevin Murphy, who has set up company Canna Island with partner Steve Dunn to capitalize on cannabis tourism — from cannabis-infused food and beverages to a new cannabis festival in Cavendish, P.E.I.
"We can sit here and say no, we're not going to be part of it, or we can embrace it and say how are we going to properly manage it and sell it and have places for these people to enjoy it and experience it?" Murphy said.
"If we don't have it, they'll go somewhere else. You can still manage it and do it in a very nice way."
'No different than alcohol'
When they started talking about making pot-infused beverages, Murphy said other possibilities also began brewing. The company has two part-time employees now, but is poised to go in many different directions.
"We want to just have our eyes wide open on what the opportunities could be and see if we can capitalize on them or build on what we have as a company at Murphy Hospitality Group," Murphy said.
The company will help market and sell cannabis products from other companies. It has already hosted its first event — helping last week to launch Figr, a brand of cannabis grown on P.E.I. by Canada's Island Garden, at the P.E.I. Brewing Company.
The brewery and Canna Island are partnering with Dosecann, a federally-regulated plant in the P.E.I. Biocommons Research Park in Charlottetown, to create "deliciously infused beverages and edibles for recreational retail," Canna Island's website says.
And, it's planning a cannabis festival for next summer at the Cavendish Beach Music Festival site, pending approval from the local municipality.
"It's no different than alcohol. We have licensed establishments, we regulate and manage our places responsibly, and it'll be no different with the cannabis business I think," Murphy said.
Not a 'weed guide'
Gocanna is another P.E.I.-based business hoping to capitalize on cannabis tourism. It offers to coach Canadian tourism operators in creating policies and procedures that deal with the new legalized environment.
It's offering certification to businesses that can demonstrate they're committed to providing a safe, responsible and legal environment for customers. They then would be added to a map travellers can use — but owner Shaman Ferraro stresses it is not a "weed guide."
"Our focus is how do we help businesses understand the legal frameworks, but also the marketplace and who the consumers are, and who the demographics are," said Ferraro. "We recognize people are using cannabis, whether medically or recreationally — how do we create the environment that supports them?"
Gocanna charges $1,500 for a three-year membership. Last week it signed up its very first member, the wedding venue Green Island Getaways in North Granville, P.E.I., which wants guests to safely enjoy cannabis on its 70-acre property.
"Guests are free to consume cannabis anywhere on the private grounds — 90 per cent of our guests have already been smoking before it was legal anyway," said manager Bronwyn Leitch, who plans to the market the property as cannabis-friendly. "There's no judgment here."
Last week the two co-hosted the Green Island Social — Ferraro called it the first recreational cannabis event on P.E.I. where people could consume cannabis, as well as alcohol.
"This wasn't an event to 'Hey, come get high now that it's legalized,'" Ferraro stressed. Businesses were invited to find out more about their legal rights and obligations, he said — for instance, he says P.E.I. law allows tourism operators to create outdoor consumption areas, similar to tobacco smoking.
Planting the seeds
Sandy MacKay at Alexander Fresh Vegetables in Hope River wants to help Islanders learn to grow marijuana organically.
This weekend, along with Gocanna and Grow Daddy Canada, MacKay is offering a workshop for Islanders over 19.
He's charging $20 per person to show them indoor and outdoor growing, identifying male and female plants, soil amendments and more. If the workshop goes well he may offer more.
However, Islanders will have to bank that knowledge, since the province is not yet selling seeds and plants.
"The province continues to explore having seeds and seedling for sale in P.E.I., although the supply chain variables associated with these products have not yet been finalized," P.E.I. Cannabis said in an email to CBC News.
MacKay is also eager to get in on pot tourism. He petitioned the province to be allowed to help Islanders grow their own cannabis organically — like a U-Brew model for alcohol, he'd help them plant their four plants at his organic greenhouse, then look after it until it was ready for harvest. That idea has been rejected so far, MacKay said.
He'd also like to offer tourists a cannabis cooking experience, and a place for them to consume marijuana on his property — that idea is in development for next tourist season he said.
Matt Gennis of Stratford calls cannabis legalization "the gold rush for my generation."
"How often does a billion-dollar industry appear overnight?" he said.
The 30-year-old business grad is also in the business of helping Islanders grow their government-sanctioned plants. Home Grow PEI sells and installs indoor greenhouse kits at a variety of price points, but Gennis said a $400 kit is perfect for just four plants.
Gennis used to own a roofing company but when it looked like legalization was imminent, he said he knew he wanted to be part of it.
He's hoping Home Grow will be a full-time business for at least a few years — "no one really knows," he said — and is keeping his costs low by not operating a storefront.
He's set up a more than a dozen kits so far. Although he is already running into supply problems with companies who sell him grow lights, he said he is able to provide alternate products.
New products on the horizon
Islanders will soon see new products from Red Sands Craft Cannabis, the company's parent Biome Grow Cannabis announced just a week ago.
The publicly-traded company has already set up growing and processing facilities in Nova Scotia, where it will call its brand "Highland," and Newfoundland, where it will be "Back Home," and is planning facilities in P.E.I. and New Brunswick. It is banking on Atlantic Canada having one of the highest cannabis consumption rates of all regions in Canada, it said in a recent news release.
"We would rather set up shop in P.E.I. and develop customized solutions and products and services for the local community," said Khurram Malik, CEO and founder of Biome Grow, from his office in Toronto. The company is also planning to cater to the large tourist market — more than a million people visit the Island each year.
"We prefer to build provincial brands because — this doesn't apply to every province — but in certain provinces if you build local, supply local, employ local, locals will support local product," he said. The same does not apply in Ontario, Malik said.
Malik said in the next few months, Biome will break ground on a small to mid-sized facility (50,000 square feet or so) in an area outside an urban centre — in Newfoundland they're located in Barachois Brook near Stephenville, and in Nova Scotia they chose Antigonish.
It plans to create value-added products like edibles and creams.
"We don't just want to set up a grow-op and supply and call it a day," Malik said. Red Sands doesn't have a contract with the province yet but isn't anticipating that will be a problem.
He's promising Red Sands will create a significant number of jobs — "more than five or 10," but he wouldn't be specific. He also promised it will hire locals.
Grow Daddy opened a storefront in Stratford last year in anticipation of legalization, selling smoking accessories like bongs and pipes as well as growing kits, and say they're now one of the largest Canadian online cannabis retail stores.
"We have had very aggressive growth, largely due to our decision to expand and offer services online," said company owner Chris Furlong. They've had customers as far away as South America and Europe.
They've been assembling and branding their own Grow Daddy brand of lights and tents as well as smoking accessories.
Grow Daddy has had lots of interest in franchising from entrepreneurs in other provinces, Furlong said, but no decision has been made.
Wild Impulse in Charlottetown is uniquely positioned in the new legal environment — it's in the same strip mall as the P.E.I. Cannabis Charlottetown retail store.
It's been selling smoking accessories for 18 years, and was ready with lots of extra products like pipes, bongs and rolling papers, "like a retailer would for Christmas," said owner Tracy Dooley. Staff handed out sample kits and coupons the first few days to those in the government store lineup.
"Initially it was a real flood of people coming in," said Dooley. Islanders were checking out the government store and then coming down to Wild Impulse "looking for a little bit of everything."
Realizing that more retailers — including the government — are getting into selling accessories, Dooley said Wild Impulse has adjusted its prices on some products and is encouraging Islanders to shop local.
Dooley believes that once many have experimented with cannabis, about 10 per cent of the population will become regular new consumers, on top of those who already used cannabis.