The legalization of cannabis has created a new approach to the sale of the product, and it’s a change for the better, says Ian Laing, the owner of Earth to Sky Cannabis in Sooke.
“Discrimination against cannabis is based on long-standing and ill-informed beliefs about cannabis that are going to take some time to overcome,” he said.
“That’s why we’re taking a very professional and well-informed approach to our operation. It’s an approach that we think will help to change the way people think about our product.”
It’s an approach that mirrors the marketing strategy that Riverside Cannabis, Sooke’s first licensed cannabis shop, has already implemented.
“This is a legal product that we’re selling and we know that our customers are getting used to the legal outlets and we’re doing our best to help educate our customers as they come out of the grey and black markets” said Lori Rittaler the owner of Riverside Cannabis.
“We also have people who are trying it for the first time, so there’s a real mixed bag out there and we need to find a way of answering all their questions.”
Amanda Sannella, the manager of Earth to Sky, is eager to implement a professional approach to marketing the newly legalized product.
“The biggest opportunity that we have involves customers who come in after having dealt with illegal suppliers and who are looking for a comparable legal product,” Sannella said.
“They want something like the product they’re used to and we can help them do that while being able to guarantee that they are actually getting what they think they are getting. In illegal operations, you could never be certain of that. It was a huge risk.”
But just like at the Riverside store, Sannella said it isn’t just long-term users of cannabis that come through the door.
“We see a wide range of customer profiles coming to our door, asking when we’ll be open,” Sannella said. (The store has since opened.)
“But it’s going to take a while for us to overcome some of the stigma associated with our products. I think that when edibles are made legal (promised for mid-December) as well as concentrates and even topicals (that are in a cream form that is absorbed through the skin) you’ll see people becoming more educated and comfortable with the product.”
A new aspect of that education comes as the licensed producers now employ what Laing calls cannabis sommeliers. These product representatives travel to cannabis outlets to educate the staff about the differences in various cannabis products.
“It’s not unlike the liquor (company) reps who go to liquor stores to promote their products and answer questions about the options that exist,” Sannella said.
Mike Stewart is one of those representatives. He is the product representative and sales manager for Aurora Cannabis, one of the country’s legal cannabis producers.
“I go around and make sure that all the stores have what they need and that the ‘budtenders’ have all the information they need to sell the product,” Stewart said.
Stewart acknowledged, however, a stigma is still attached to cannabis use.
“In the past cannabis users were sometimes seen as pot heads, lazy and not as intelligent as other people. That’s an unfair characterization,” Stewart said.
“Cannabis users are just normal people who might want to unwind at the end of the day, in the same way as someone using alcohol might have a glass of wine or a beer.”
He said there have always been a lot of cannabis users and that they are now free to come out of the closet.
“As far as the attitudes and stigma, well that will pass with time. No one is really focusing on that right now.”
Still, Rittaler said the stigma associated with cannabis use persists and it’s more than a little is off-putting.
“This is the end of prohibition and there is still a stigma out there that has developed over a number of decades,” she said.
“Let’s hope that running professional outlets helps with that. It won’t happen overnight.”
Laing, too, is hopeful that attitudes will change as knowledge and understanding about cannabis improve.
“For now, it’s an uphill climb. I still can’t get a single bank branch in Sooke to accept my account. The only bank I’ve managed to work with is the Bank of Montreal, but that means that I have to drive my deposits into Langford. That’s something that needs to change.”