Nearly 20 years ago, Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati became one of the first olympians to come out of the cannabis closet after testing positive for THC at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. Now he's one of - if not the first Olympian to become a ganjapreneur.
In 2013, Rebagliati launched Ross' Gold - a brand of cannabis products marketed to health-conscious consumers and anyone leading an active lifestyle. And in 2016, the brand ambassador and father of three added even more to his plate by opening up the Ross' Gold dispensary in Kelowna, British Columbia. "We got 200 plus lights to take care of. I've got three kids. Plus we're growing the brand, doing all the trade shows. We have a lot happening," Rebagliati recently told Civilized.
And things are only going to get busier as Canada moves toward legalizing recreational cannabis use by July 1, 2018.
"This is all leading up to next summer, when everything goes legal in Canada," Rebagliati explained. "So we went out on a limb to open our store here in Kelowna as soon as we could. We wanted to be open before prohibition ended because we wanted to be an example of what a cannabis storefront could be. We believe that's the right way to provide access to cannabis. So that's what we did."
How are things with the new store?
So far so good. We've been open since December. We've had the dispensary full of cannabis since January, and we've got over 1,000 members now. Once recreational comes next summer, we won't have to do the whole patient intake thing with doctors anymore.
Do you think dispensaries like yours will be allowed to operate under Canada's legalization regime?
We're probably gonna see some regulations from the government saying storefronts need to be supplied by a certain source - probably an LP [licensed producer approved by the federal government to cultivate medical marijuana]. But we believe in the craft industry - the small batch, private reserve-style cannabis that's being produced right now under personal production licenses for medical use. That is the lifeblood of the cannabis industry in Canada, so we'd like to see it get licensed for recreational purposes to supply the stores.
Oh yeah. This is craft from seed to sale.
We're supplying our own storefront and we get all of our products tested en masse. Everything's tagged with proper labelling just like with an LP. We're not trying to copy LP's or anything, we just think that's the correct way to do it. To have proper labelling so people can dose correctly and know exactly what they're buying. And we're producing organically as well.
It's not something we do because we have to. We do it because that's the way it should be done. That's the way the best weed is grown, so that's the way we're doing it.
Why do you prefer craft cannabis over the marijuana grown by licensed producers?
Because plants and vegetables have forever been grown in facilities that don't cost $10 million and have the same security as a military base. The way tomatoes and cucumbers have been grown for the last 100 years is still fine. There haven't been cases of mass die-offs from the way those plants are produced. We're trying to show the government and the industry what we think the future looks like.
We'd like to see the government create a new license for craft growers and we'd like to be a part of that option so that the issue doesn't end up in the Supreme Court, which is where it will end up. And it will cost taxpayers tons of money before the judge probably agrees that the craft producers should be allowed to supply recreational cannabis - maybe not into a hospital environment or a sterile environment. Maybe the LP's that are already growing in a sterile environment will be able to continue providing for them.
Some patients need weed from a sterile environment. But in terms of recreational purposes, there's no need for that. And none of that security or anything like that.
If you look at other industries, like the pharmaceutical industry for example, which is producing arguably the most dangerous substances on earth right now, they don't have the same security to produce fentanyl or oxycodone. They don't have any of the security requirements that the LP's have to have. We just don't see the reason for it.
What do you think other cannabis storefronts could learn from the way you run a dispensary?
They want to do the same thing that we're doing. But a lot of dispensaries haven't invested a lot of money in their storefronts because they keep getting shut down. And they were making money anyways, so they didn't need to have a big, beautiful environment. Everything was working out fine.
Are you worried about police raiding your store like pot shops in Toronto and other places across the country?
No, not too worried about it. They're aware that we're here. City council knows that we're here. Everyone knows we're here. We've been in operation since December. They're kinda just waiting to deal with the new law, so they haven't really been closing down any shops in Kelowna. The RCMP seems to be acting just depending on what communities want, if communities want raids, they raid.
Do you think those other dispensaries will follow your lead?
Yeah, with recreational legalization coming, people are going to find that going into a dispensary can be a different experience from what they thought. There's a demographic for everything, so what we try to do with our brand is reach the broadest demographic, from your twentysomething stoner going to concerts to your 50-60 year old professional surgeon or lawyer. They can all come into our store and feel comfortable and impressed and leave wanting to come back.
When you come into our store it's an experience. You're becoming part of history. You become part of my story, and you're associating yourself with being healthy, being a good parent and being a good citizen by contributing to your your community.
We're the sports weed, we're the healthy weed, we're the performance-enhancing weed, we're the family-oriented weed. We're smashing the stereotypes weed.