Roy Corbett

Happy but nervous about cannabis legalization

The Mad Trapper Emporium is a combination “head and vape” shop. They specialize in vaping tools and products as well as what the owners, Ali Carrington and JJ Gray, describe as “accessories for an alternative lifestyle.” A lifestyle made legal on Oct. 17.

On Oct. 16, the final day of cannabis prohibition in Canada, I sat down to talk to Ali and JJ.

Hesitant at first, they eventually accepted my request.

“These interviews are hard,” says Ali. “We’re like the black sheep in this town as a business. For me to go out there and just take this opinion of mine and throw it out there where people can read it freaks me out a bit, because they don’t respect us.”

Ali grew up in here, a local son of Smithers. After graduating from Bulkley Valley Christian School, Ali Carrington went on to work full time as a “swamper” (a trucker’s assistant) in the Northwest Territories.

“After a while I did not like that life of being on the road all the time and working long, long days and never having any time off to do anything else. So I came back and worked the usual beginner-grade jobs.”

Ali was working at Boston Pizza when he met JJ Gray, a man from Stewart, B.C. who would eventually become his business partner.

“After three years at Boston Pizza I moved back to the arctic for another 10 years. Then I moved back here when I had my daughter and opened this store up,” says Ali. “The name Mad Trapper Emporium is based off of our time in the arctic because our favourite bar up there [in Inuvik] is the Mad Trapper.”

I asked them their thoughts on the legalization of marijuana and what it means for their store.

“What’s going to change for our store sales-wise? Probably nothing. We’re already a business and we don’t sell anything illegal here. Grass? I don’t know if that will actually change anything short of us becoming a dispensary or anything. Even then it wouldn’t be at this store, it would be at another location. So I don’t really feel that it would change much. Maybe slightly busier for a month while everybody’s trying out the new toy, but would it change much? I don’t think so.”

Ali and JJ see the end of cannabis prohibition in Canada as a mixed blessing.

“If you want my honest opinion, which is all I offer, is that I don’t think this is an end of prohibition at all. I think it is going to be more regulated and less free than before it was legal,” said Ali.

Ali and JJ consider themselves advocates of safe and responsible usage, but they fear some of the new legislation surrounding legalization is too intrusive.

“There were people who were already responsibly doing this while it was illegal,” said Ali. “If you want to kill the black market, there’s only one way. That’s to release this and let it be publicly used. Again, I don’t mean at schools or playgrounds. Nobody wants smoking at playgrounds. But they’re saying that at parks in Canada you’re only allowed to be smoking at your campsite. If I go on a hike in the backcountry I can’t smoke because it’s in a national park?”

The two small-business owners are also concerned about the power the state has over the industry.

“They demonized marijuana sales since the ’30s, for a long time,” said Ali. “The moment they decide to legalize it, they became the drug dealer on the block. They’re the ones who profit the most out of this. They set pricing, they set distribution, they set the whole system up. So all you’re doing is transitioning it from private citizens to government. It’s unnecessary. What they could’ve done was they could’ve legalized it, let the growers sell it to the brick-and-mortar stores, and collect the taxes at both ends. Everybody would’ve won, and [the government] would’ve stayed out of being the drug dealer.”

“We didn’t need to go through this whole process as a country, all we had to do was decriminalize it. Look at how much money this is going to cost. Every part of this process has a new framework that has to be built for it when in reality all we were asking for was to not go to jail over a plant. To not have a criminal record over a plant,” said Ali.

The Canadian question on cannabis is no longer whether or not should we legalize it, but rather now that it is legal, how do we go about regulating it?

“I’m sure lots of this will be amended in a few years, but why didn’t we start off with the same approach as other places that have legalized it?”

Ali provides an example of such a place: the American state of Colorado.

“My uncle lives in Colorado, and he can grow his own plants. They don’t have a four-plant limit. He can grow how many he wants to. It’s legalized in the state of Colorado. They were one of the first ones to do it,” said Ali. “There’s been some amendments to their legalization process as they’re going through it, but they didn’t restrict it [this way] and turn it into a police state.”

Despite their issues with how the government is going about regulating cannabis. Ali and JJ do see legalization as a step in the right direction.

“I don’t want people to think I’m negative towards legalization, ” said Ali. “The main quote for me is that I’m happy, but I’m nervous.”


Mad Trapper Emporium’s JJ Gray (left) and Ali Carrington (right) with customer David Watts. Roy Corbett photo

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