The idea for Smithers’ very own cannabis shop began a year ago, so it’s fitting Rural Leaf would be opening on Oct. 17, 2019, a year to the date that cannabis was made legal across Canada through the Cannabis Act.
Rural Leaf co-owner Alfred Schaefer said he was first approached by co owner Peter Greene last October with the idea.
“Peter is great, he’s always got lots of ideas, he always wants to get things going — but he was quite serious about this one,” Schaefer told The Interior News.
“I really like cannabis and the cannabis world and I was interested in getting into it so that’s kind of where it started.
“Then after we recruited Mikel [Abbot] the three of us just kind of went from there.”
First things first, Schaefer said the group had to determine whether a dispensary would even be viable in a town like Smithers.
Luckily, he said, the government had already done lots of comprehensive surveys around the rollout of legalization.
“We kind of just sourced all that data and looked at the census data for here and the surrounding area and figured it was a good match.”
He said one of the toughest things about the process was not knowing whether or not the business would be the right fit for the town, or even be approved by the government.
While the Cannabis Act is federal legislation, it leaves many aspects surrounding the sale, production and usage of the plant, which had been illegal for non-medicinal usage since 1923, up to the provinces.
In B.C. one of the rules is being able to show the Province you have a long-term location secured for your business.
“You basically had to have something that would guarantee you at least a year of operation in one location,” said Schaefer, adding this was particularly tricky since retail leases are often sold in three-year increments.
“That was definitely freaky,” he said.
“It’s like, OK we don’t even know if we’re going to get the licence and we’re going to shell out a bunch of money and then we also are locked into a lease.”
Still, Schaefer said the group felt confident in their plans and decided to pull the trigger on a property located at 1126 Main Street.
At a public hearing concerning the proposed retail outlet, the three residents who spoke to council at their May 28 meeting were unanimous in their support of Rural Leaf, noting the benefits of non-psychoactive components of the plant like cannabidiol (CBD), the benefits of supporting the legal market and that the business itself was local and not a larger company coming in from out of town.
Schaefer said it was really moving seeing so much support from a town that he and his two business partners are all proud to be long-term residents of.
“I don’t even think I told that many people about it so it was very shocking to show up and see there were so many people.
“It was just nice to see that this was something the community wanted and it gave us a lot more confidence to move forward.”
Schaefer said part of his approach for the store is he wants Rural Leaf to be a resource for people curious about cannabis where they can learn more about the plant and ask questions of experienced users who know more about the subtle effects of the substance.
Currently Schaefer is taking a course surrounding some of the more subtle-yet-critical qualities of cannabis, such as terpenes and cannabinoids, and what role they play in a user’s medicinal or recreational experience with cannabis.
“What we’re striving to be is a place that [provides] expertise, especially for people that are trying it for the first time,” he said.
Acknowledging cannabis might not be for all people, Schaefer also pointed out that first experiences can make or break a person’s opinion on something.
“There’s probably a lot of people that maybe it would be OK for them but the way that they first took it put them off of it.”
At various council meetings the Town has discussed details about how the storefront would look.
Schaefer said he has been in talks with deputy mayor Gladys Atrill and one aspect they have confirmed is that the shop will feature a blackout sticker of sorts that features one-way visibility, so people inside the store can see outside onto the street but people on the street cannot see inside.
While for many in the area it will just be the local dispensary, for Schaefer, Greene and Abbot it’s the start of something they hope will enhance the community they all call home.
Rural Leaf’s website can be found at ruralleaf.ca