The edibles kicked in at the senior centre where we were visiting my friend’s grandmother in Los Angeles. To be sure, the differences between the legal cannabis dispensaries in California and Ontario start with, obviously, the choices.
Edibles – gummies, chocolates and infused-drinks low-dosed with either THC or CBD – are huge sellers at MedMen, the largest cannabis retailer in the United States, with revenue of US$29.9-million (and a net losses of US$64.6-million in its most-recent fiscal quarter).
In California, where MedMen has eight retail locations, the dispensary has been elevated to tourist destination, where customers can not only purchase grams of indica, hybrids and sativa, but also varsity jackets, hoodies and shirts. Shopping for cannabis has become, in certain quarters, an opportunity to buy weed, and take selfies. In terms of design and acceptance, lighting, customer service and community, they’re not just stores but lifestyle statements — more Lululemon and Apple then Beavis and Butthead.
The Canadian cannabis industry took its giant leap forward last Oct. 17, when ribbons were cut on bricks-and-mortar stores in many parts of the country. Ontario and Toronto took its big leap on April 1. While the the cannabis distribution chain still struggles to supply fresh product from licensed producers to legal shops, the point of purchase has now been forever altered, and this will affect the share price of not only the LPs, but everyone else tangentially touched by the industry. If Canadians like buying cannabis, they’ll buy more of it. So, how is Toronto doing two weeks in? And how do we stack up against L.A.?
Well, product diversity aside, in terms of experience and efficiency, Toronto – though earnestly, even sweetly, well-intentioned – lags in logistics, hence expedience, when compared to California’s crème de la crème.
On Queen Street West in Toronto, the Hunny Pot comes closest to resembling the cannabis utopia of the MedMen location in West Hollywood.
Beside the Hunny Pot on a cold April afternoon, lines bend on to St. Patrick Street and side businesses flourish as street art salesmen peddle their wares to about 30 people waiting to enter Toronto’s first legal cannabis store. (On opening day in Brampton, reports say, that same line served as a customer base for unlicensed cannabis sellers, also known as “dudes selling weed.”)
A single security guard performs a perfunctory check of IDs – and either this is the happiest security guard in Canada or Hunny Pot has instructed the young man to smile –then a shopper snakes from the line outside, to another line inside the store. The store’s design is quite beautiful. But the efficiency is subpar. It takes 30 minutes to get inside the shop, where you wait another 20 minutes to start shopping.
Once inside, a customer is greeted for a one-on-one consultation with an iPad-toting, knowledgeable, smiling budtender (and it can’t be that these people are stoned; like with MedMen, any employee caught using faces immediate termination).
Three-storeys high, the wooden floors glisten, and the product is divided into categories, sativa, indica and hybrid, with oils and capsules highlighted in glass cases between stylish displays of flower. (The boxes for showcasing the Hunny Pot cannabis are the same as the ones used at MedMen – clear cylinder containers with perforated glass covers in which a customer can smell each of the 50 to 60 different strains. The flower, as an object of desire, is literally put on a pedestal, almost like a diamond ring).
Shipments at Hunny Pot are received every seven to fourteen days and, thus far, the best-sellers have been strains with high THC – suggesting the clientele is either hardcore smokers, or just people who’ve never smoked before and are clearly buying the wrong thing.
The owners of the Hunny Pot have said, design-wise, they were influenced by Davids Tea.
At Ameri, the second location to open in Toronto, the influence feels much more in-line with a pre-legalization illegal dispensary. In fact, an illegal dispensary on Cumberland Avenue has been converted into this bare-boned operation with no website, an unlisted phone number and zero curb appeal.
What Ameri lacks in sizzle, however, it makes up for in point of purchase efficiency.
Off the beaten path and with its opening a few days after the Hunny Pot, it’s received a fraction of the attention and there’s no lineup on a recent Thursday afternoon: it’s small, clean and discreet.
Again, the cannabis is arranged by type of flower: sativa, indica, hybrid, with pipes, papers and lighters for sale in a glass case beneath the counter. Everything is well lit and the brands are presented with an eye on equality: no company is given preferred placement, it’s organized around potency and strain. Soon, the Hunny Pot will offer a wall of “staff picks,” in which, like Blockbuster Video, consumers can purchase staff recommendations.
The staff at Ameri, when told this, opine that this type of favouritism is against the law.
Clearly, three weeks into Toronto’s retail experiment, confusion still reigns.
At Ameri, the main display case is on the back wall, where glass boxes – again the same clear perforated cylinders as the Hunny Pot and MedMen – offer a glimpse of about a dozen different varieties. On the day we visit, two varieties are sold out – De La Haze by San Rafael and Broken Coast – and again, we’re informed that the varieties with the highest THC are most popular. From Yorkville to Queen Street to Alberta, the Canadian cannabis consumer wants the strongest cannabis they can legally buy.
Prices, meanwhile, are consistent. At Ameri, a gram of Redecan God Bud cost $13.56 after taxes; at the Hunny Pot, a gram of Seven Oaks Shishkaberry, again after taxes, is $13.55.
At MedMen in Los Angeles, a gram of Mendo Breath costs US$12.
So what of the actual flower; how does the Canadian bud compare? The God Bud from Ameri had the best aromatics and flavour, while the Shishkaberry was brittle, and the count – though all three stores receive their shipments pre-packaged – seemed light.
Mendo Breath, like the popular LA Kush, was deep green with purple crystals and everything left this reviewer, as it will most consumers, consistently satisfied.
Come next Oct. 17, the full range of cannabis products, meaning edibles, will be legal in this country, which will give our stores ample shelf variety to compete with MedMen.
At a senior centre in Los Angeles, it was revealed that this will indeed be a good day.
- Special to Cannabis Professional