Saskatoon

Get to know your local (legal) pot sellers: Weyburn, Sask., edition

One's an oil and gas man, the other group already has its foot in the industry.

One's an oil and gas man, the other group already has its foot in the pot industry

The City of Weyburn, with a population just shy of 11,000, will be home to two retail cannabis stores after legalization. (CBC)

"Now what?"

That's what Torrance Aitken remembers thinking when he found out he'd won one of Saskatchewan's 51 coveted retail cannabis permits.

Four weeks later, there are still some things about the new legal pot industry that Aitken, a 34-year-old oil and gas well tester in Weyburn, Sask., can only guess at.

"I really don't have any idea how it will go," he said Wednesday. 

But Aitken didn't want to miss out on what he saw as a unique business opportunity.

The Saskatchewan government was only allowing two pot shops to operate in Weyburn, population 10,870.

Torrance Aitken, a Weyburn-area oil and gas well tester who won one of Weyburn's two pot permits, says he'll operate both businesses simultaneously. (Torrance Aitken)

"I've watched the news for the last few years and the continued discussion of cannabis being the next gold rush for my generation, and I've never been one to sit back idly and watch something just pass me by.

"So I figured, what the heck, try."

Liquor, pot and a box of Kraft Dinner

Aitken is banking on Weyburn's location — just over 100 kilometres southeast of Regina — as a hub for several other smaller communities.

"I feel like … people will be coming to Weyburn for a doctor visit and a trip to Walmart. Because we'd offer some other services in town — they can get their liquor, their cannabis and box of Kraft Dinner."

Aitken currently runs a crew of up to 10 people in a well-testing division of his father's oil and gas services business, Hotshot Oilfield Service.

He expects to be very hands-on once his retail cannabis store opens, at least initially, but does plan to keep running Hotshot, too.

Weyburn a must-have

Aitken's "sure, why not?" attitude stands in stark contrast to the determined approach taken by Weyburn's other successful pot permittees, married business partners Brianna and Dave Martin.

The Kelowna, B.C., couple co-owns a dozen clinics in B.C. and Alberta under the Compass Cannabis flag. The clinics help link patients to prescribing doctors and the right kind of cannabis, based on people's ailments.

The Martins applied for 10 of Saskatchewan's 51 permits, at a cost of around $60,000, and Weyburn was their only hit.

"My grandmother, who's 100, lives in Estevan and I was born in Weyburn, so those were must-haves for me, just as a connection that I have to them," said Brianna.

"We were just really pleased that we even got one. And it was the one that I was born in, so even happier."

Brianna and Dave Martin of Kelowna, B.C., have formed a joint venture with a Colorado company to operate their Weyburn pot store, which will be called Starbuds. (Compass Cannabis)

Compass is partnering with an American company, Starbuds Colorado, to open its store in Weyburn. (Colorado and Washington were the first U.S. states to legalize recreational marijuana.)

The store will bear the Starbuds name.

"We have a lot of experience here in terms of retail and other industries, but there's nothing like aligning yourself with someone who already has years and years of data and experience," said Brianna.

Educating the public about pot will be a main focus of the store, she added.

Dave said what made Saskatchewan attractive (besides being one of the five provinces which will allow for some form of private pot retail) is the relative flexibility offered by the province's retail cannabis rules, such as allowing home delivery.

"In other provinces, the mail-order is directly controlled by the province. In Saskatchewan, that is not the case. You can do orders through our website, for example."

Ready for legalization?

Both Aitken and the Martins are unsure whether their stores will be ready to open on Oct. 17, the date of Canadian pot legalization.

The City of Weyburn has yet to finalize its rules for where the stores can and can't locate.

"We're working on it," said Donette Richter, the city clerk.

"Summer's a bit tough to get things [done] because we are not holding as many meetings, but we're hoping by the end of summer that we will have zoning fully ready to roll," she said.

"We certainly don't want to stand in the way of any new business to Weyburn."

Even if there is a delay, it won't be a long one, said Dave Martin.

"We don't know if the 17th will be an opening date for us. But we don't think it will be much beyond that," he said.  

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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