Struggle to open Tecumseh, Ont. hemp shop due to 'massive confusion' in cannabis industry
'Everybody's scared': Owners say it was hard to find insurance, landlord and bank support
Opening a hemp-based business for two moms in Tecumseh, Ont. has involved more than a year of red tape and roadblocks, largely because of the connection to cannabis.
Finding a bank, insurance and a landlord wasn't easy, according to Melissa Boow and Tiffany Rizok, and nearly forced them to give up trying. The owners constantly had to explain that both hemp and marijuana are cultivated from the cannabis sativa plant family, but that hemp contains virtually none of the elements of the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) compound found in marijuana that makes people high.
"Everybody's scared and not realizing that there's a difference," said Boow. "For every step you take forward, you take two steps back fighting. It's not fair. It shouldn't be like this."
Inspired by the environmental benefits of hemp, both women kept pushing forward even after realizing "nobody really wanted to play with us." Their business, Gingers House of HEMP, opened in October at the intersection of Walker Road and Highway 3 in Oldcastle, Ont.
I suspect what the issue would be is the massive amount of confusion out there over how we regulate cannabis.- Trina Fraser, cannabis lawyer in Ottawa
"We sell clothing, we don't sell marijuana," said Rizok. "We literally found our bank account a day before our store was to open."
The two sell a variety of hemp-based items, including clothing, dog collars, leashes, lotions, as well as food products.
Health Canada does have industrial hemp regulations, which require growers to be approved and licensed before setting up shop.
After the hemp plant is harvested, the seed and the stalk's fibre can be sold to make other things. Then it becomes "somewhat unlicensed," according to Trina Fraser, a partner at Brazeau Seller Law in Ottawa, who has a specialty in cannabis law.
"There's no specific regulation of those parts of the plant from that point on," said Fraser.
Health Canada confirmed that products made using parts of the hemp plant, such as the non-viable seeds or the stalk fibre, can be legally sold through a wide variety of retail channels.
"For example, fibre from stalks can be used in making paper, textiles, rope or twine and construction materials, while grain from industrial hemp can be used in food products, cosmetics, plastics and fuel," said Geoffroy Legault-Thivierge, media relations officer.
Fraser said she wasn't necessarily surprised to hear some businesses, with any sort of connection to cannabis, are having a hard time finding willing partners.
"I suspect what the issue would be is the massive amount of confusion out there over how we regulate cannabis, and I use that in the umbrella-term sense, which would include hemp," she said, adding that the confusion is likely why many are nervous.
Landlords, for example, have the discretion to choose tenants as long as they aren't being discriminatory under the Ontario Human Rights Code, Fraser said.
"And this certainly wouldn't be one [example of that]," she added.
Given the current climate and stigma surrounding the cannabis industry, Boow said she will shelve plans to open a cannabis cafe. That's what initially prompted her to open Gingers House of HEMP, as an entry point to "play the game" — referring to the government's regulation of the industry.
Boow said hearing stories of how the cannabis plant can be beneficial kept her going.
"We wanted to have an in somewhere so that we're able to make a difference," she said. "The difference that we're making now might not be huge, but it's something."
Boow said her shop is just as much for selling hemp products, as it is about educating the community and reducing the stigma around cannabis.