To mark 4/20, the day that celebrates cannabis culture around the world, we spoke to the owners of three Toronto cannabis stores. Coincidentally, they’re also a great prank organization: a rabbi, a lawyer, and a millennial walk into a cannabis store. (Insert your own punchline here.)
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, the body that regulates the sale of cannabis in that province, has received more than 2,000 applications for retail store authorizations since 2019. About 1,400 of them have already been approved to open (including around 1,200 in 2021 alone), with nearly 500 locations in and around the GTA. While most of these owners are typical corporate suits, the trio we found is as interesting as the company itself.
Owner: Jacob Steven
Store: Purple Moose Cannabis
Pitches: 575 Laval Drive, Suite 400, Oshawa
1383 Lawrence Avenue West, Toronto
5984 Bathurst Street, North York
Jacob Stevens is not, in fact, a rabbi. He is a Hasid, a sub-sect of ultra-Orthodox Jews known for their long beards, black hats and cheerful spirit. And he was one of the first 25 winners of Ontario’s cannabis retail store award lottery in January 2019.
Despite Stevens being up against over 17,000 other applicants, he knew he would be one of the winners. “I was sure I would win,” the 60-year-old grandfather of five said from the North York site of Purple Moose Cannabis.
“The Aibishter (God) wanted me to do something special,” he added. “And he gave me so many brachas (blessings) along the way.
And that’s a good thing too. With no experience in retail or cannabis, Stevens needed all the help he could get.
Pre-Purple Moose, Toronto-born Stevens operated Tripsetter, a bus travel company that offered cross-border day trips. When recreational marijuana was legalized here in October 2018, US bus companies started offering cannabis tours in Canada. Stevens saw an opportunity.
“But as a religious person, is that really something I should be doing?” he remembered wondering. The answer would come from his rabbi, who gave his approval to the cannabis business.
The next approval is expected to come from the Ontario government, but retail store approvals have been temporarily capped as cannabis supply stabilizes. So Stevens prayed.
Its flagship store in Oshawa was that city’s first cannabis dispensary. It opened in the summer of 2019 and sales have been two to four times better than expected throughout the pandemic.
The success of the Oshawa store allowed it to open two new stores in January 2022.
And with plans to continue growing her business, Stevens has in mind what only an orthodox pot shop owner would do: kosher cannabis-infused edibles.
Owner: David Elison
Store: Scarlet Fire Cannabis Co.
Location: 3852 Bathurst Street
David Ellison was a Bay Street attorney before opening Scarlet Fire Cannabis Co. in March 2021. After 20 years in corporate securities, he gave up the rat race to pursue his dream.
“I wanted to make a better contribution to the world than just making the rich rich,” said Ellison, who had focused his practice on cannabis transactions since 2015, when he was the first American cannabis company to go public in Canada. . “My new mission is to improve people’s quality of life through cannabis.”
And he fulfills that mission in a one-of-a-kind pottery shop inspired by the Grateful Dead, the founding rock band that has been synonymous with marijuana since the 1960s.
Scarlet Fire is a nickname for “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain”, two Grateful Dead songs that are often paired in the band’s live performances. And the store’s psychedelic vibe screams Deadhead, the nickname of a devotee of the Grateful Dead.
Like any true Deadhead, Ellison is the definition of a weed geek. More than a typical budtender, as sales people are often called in the industry, Ellison and his team are more like cannabis sommeliers.
Terpene Station, a play on the Grateful Dead album “Terrapin Station”, is Scarlet Fire’s piece de resistance: a display space used as an educational tool to teach customers about the important role of aromatics and cannabinoids .
Before experiencing a Scarlet Fire education, most cannabis connoisseurs focus on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive constituent of the plant.
“But THC is like the lead actor in a movie,” Ellison said. “If you have a great lead actor but a bad director, bad script, bad casting and bad production, you’ll end up with a bad movie.”
Earlier this month, Ellison began educating en masse as a cannabis expert on Toronto radio station AM640. “I really like talking about cannabis,” Ellison, 48, said. “And once I start, it’s hard to get me to stop.”
Owner: Zain Jaffery
Store: CanaCulture Cannabis Store
Location: 914 Eglinton Avenue West
Zain Jaffery, the 25-year-old owner of CanaCulture Cannabis Store, graduated with a degree in political science and philosophy from Western University in December 2019. A man with a plan, he applied for a vending operator license retail cannabis less than a month later. , the first day the Ontario government removed its cap on cannabis stores.
Jaffery had spent much of his senior year of college in the school library, studying the newly legalized cannabis industry in order to be ready to get started. He attended cannabis conferences and began looking for retail space in the Toronto community where he grew up: Forest Hill.
CanaCulture opened in February 2021 and is the epitome of a family business. Jaffery runs the store with his two younger brothers, Samir, 22, and Aali, 20. Their parents, who helped fund the $200,000 start-up costs, run the nearby cafe.
“My dad was a great mentor to me,” Jaffery said of his father, Mazher, a former owner of the Canadian Business College. “The experience I learned from him, showing me the ropes and teaching me about the real world, trumps any business school.”
But CanaCulture’s secret weapon, Jaffery said, is his brother Samir. “He’s the experts’ expert on cannabis.”
As a store manager, Samir thoroughly researches all options before placing his weekly orders with the Ontario Cannabis Store.
As a result, 85% of CanaCulture’s menu consists of craft cannabis. Like craft beer, craft cannabis is handmade rather than mass-produced, and comes from small, quality producers, as opposed to large corporations.
The selection is one that appeals to true cannabis enthusiasts across the city and business has been good as a result.
So good, in fact, that Jaffery’s goal is to open two more cannabis retail stores in Toronto by the end of this year – one for each of his brothers.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION