‘Ottawa’ Customers Snapping up the Cannabis Candy Say They Appreciate the Convenience and Variety of Pot Dispensaries
Jordan Chambers dropped in to the Weeds marijuana dispensary on Montreal Road recently and bought a package of cannabis-infused chocolate turtles and two coconut dreamy bars.
“I think this is great,” she said of the dispensary, whose display cases are stuffed with jars of dried weed and packages of cookies, brownies and candy. Staff warned her not to eat the treats in one sitting, because they are potent.
The federal government has warned that the marijuana products sold at illegal dispensaries such as Weeds are unregulated and could be unsafe.
That doesn’t worry customers such as Chambers, who are flocking to Ottawa’s eight dispensaries by the hundreds. Customers interviewed at dispensaries across town said they appreciate the convenience of the pot shops, the variety of products and the chance to talk to a store employee.
Like Chambers, many customers have also signed up to buy medical marijuana legally from a producer licensed by Health Canada. Those producers, which include Tweed Inc. in Smiths Falls, are only allowed to sell dried weed or oil. They are restricted to online sales, and must send products by mail.
Chambers said the dried weed she tried from three licensed producers had a chemical smell that triggered migraines, and she said she didn’t like the taste of their oil. Her verdict on the chocolates from Weeds? The turtles are “inconsistent, and a bit pricey,” she said. The first night she ate one turtle and it sent her into a deep, restful sleep, but the second night the same chocolate had no effect at all, she said. She paid $12 for the pair.
The cocunut dream bars at Weeds dispensary pack are potent, warn staff.Chambers said medical marijuana is the only thing that eases the debilitating pain she has suffered since a truck ran over her foot when she was working at Home Depot in 2011. Pot helps stimulate her appetite, and calms her racing mind, said Chambers, who also suffers from attention deficit disorder and anxiety.
“I’m sure I would have been locked into a loony bin or killed myself” without medical marijuana, she said.
The only concern Chambers had about purchasing her medicine from Weeds was that staff did not allow her therapy dog, Fyn, to accompany her inside the store. (She said she may complain to her city councillor about that.)
The products sold at dispensaries are from the black market. The federal government estimates the value of the illegal marijuana trade in Canada at $7 billion a year. That vast underground industry includes both growers and clandestine kitchens baking the brownies, cookies and gummy bears. Cannabis advocates paint a picture of artisanal and mom-and-pop growers who are seasoned professionals. The federal government warns about the presence of organized crime in the marijuana trade, saying that’s one of the reasons it has decided to legalize pot.
But while the federal government studies what regulations it will impose on recreational marijuana, the dispensaries have popped up across the country, illegally peddling a wide variety of products.
The 33 licensed medical marijuana producers, including Tweed, test marijuana for chemical potency as well as such things as mould, bacteria, heavy metals and pesticides. Health Canada oversees the producers.
At the dispensaries, there are no rules except the ones the operators self-impose. Some dispensaries have their products tested, but labs that do the work clandestinely risk being charged under Canada’s drug laws.
At Weeds, which calls itself Canada’s largest marijuana dispensary chain, the dried bud and edibles are shipped from British Columbia, owner Don Briere says.
The marijuana is grown by patients who have licences to grow medical pot for themselves under an old Health Canada regulatory system, Briere says. The patients just grow a little extra. Or, apparently, a lot extra. Briere said he spent $10 million last year buying weed to supply his growing chain of dispensaries, including two in Ottawa. There are 28,000 people in Canada who are allowed to grow medical pot for themselves, according to Health Canada. However, the licences do not allow them to grow “extra” or sell to dispensaries.
The Vancouver-based Briere has spent 25 years campaigning for the legalization of marijuana. He has long-standing connections with growers in B.C., where cannabis is a major cash crop. Briere was busted in 1999 after police found a huge network of grow-ops in the province, and he has served three prison terms on drug charges.
vBriere said he wants to run legitimate pot shops, and would be glad to follow any reasonable regulations the government might impose on his stores.
The weed sold at Weeds is tested in B.C. laboratories, and the edibles are produced in commercial kitchens that follow food safety rules, says Briere. One of the labs that Briere identified is now in the process of closing, according to a lab tech who answered the phone at Wagon Wheel lab in Richmond, B.C. She referred the call to another man, who did not want to be identified but said the lab owners decided to comply with a Health Canada order to close.
A spokesperson at the other B.C. lab Briere identified said the facility has a licence to test marijuana from medical-pot licence holders. “But if somebody (brought in) hundreds of kilos a week, and they’re obviously serving massive numbers of people on both sides of the camp, medical and recreational, we’d say no,” said Wendy Riggs, manager of lab services at MB Laboratories in Sidney, B.C. “I’m not interested in that game.”
Franco Vigile of Magna Terra dispensary says his customers trust him to provide high quality, safe medical marijuana. Vigile also said the marijuana he sells is from growers who have personal medical pot licences. His growers have a reputation in the industry for “Grade A” products, said Vigile. He would not identify them, or the lab he says tests their products.
The 1,200 patients who use Magna Terra know the business is operated responsibly, he said. Consumers trust many other businesses, and his is no different, said Vigile. Consider a tomato served at a restaurant. “How do you know where those were grown? Was there pesticide on them? Were they washed?” How do customers at a bar know their drink isn’t drugged? he asked.
Patrick Lavigne, whose company Mary Janes Medicinals makes cannabis oil, salves and capsules that are sold at Capital City Cannabis Clinic, says he does his best to ensure his products are pure and safe. He works with a grower who produces organic weed. The cannabis oil used to make the products is tested at a “professional laboratory” in Toronto, said Lavigne. He makes the products himself at a commercial kitchen, the location of which he declined to specify.
Most Ottawa customers don’t care about testing, Lavigne said. Many have been smoking pot for years they bought on the black market. “Marijuana has been grown around the world with no testing. Testing is a new thing.
“As far as I’m concerned, testing really is just a scare tactic to create financial benefit for big (licensed) companies. That’s my belief.”
It’s more difficult to get information about the three Green Tree dispensaries that have opened in Ottawa this summer. The man in charge at the Preston Street shop would not identify himself or provide any information about the ownership of the company and the products it sells. Any publicity is bad publicity, and may attract attention from the police, the man said.
Who: Marc Clairoux
What he bought: Cannabis jelly candy from Weeds dispensary
A few months ago, Marc Clairoux gave up heavy drinking at night in favour of a popping a cannabis candy. His doctor had prescribed a pharmaceutical to help with his insomnia — Clairoux doesn’t remember the name of the drug.
But instead of filling the prescription at a pharmacy, Clairoux took it to a Weeds medical dispensary and got himself signed up as a customer who would benefit from medical marijuana. Weeds staff suggested jelly candies that look like little Lego pieces.
They work like a charm, says Clairoux, who adds they let him sleep and not wake up groggy. He’s also cut down on his drinking.
“I haven’t been drunk in eight months. I used to drink a 26 (ounce bottle) a night.”
“When I smoke pot, I don’t drink. And when I don’t drink, I don’t get into any shenanigans.”
Unlike alcohol, pot makes him calm, and doesn’t cloud his judgement as much, said Clairoux. “You’re not going to send a 20-minute embarrassing text to some girl you just met. It’s a high, but you can still make sound decisions.”
Clairoux said he chose to buy from a dispensary rather than a producer licensed by Health Canada for reasons of “pure convenience.” He owns a pawn shop and a tattoo parlour a few doors down from the Weeds shop on Montreal Road.
Marc Clairoux takes one of these cannabis jelly candies to help him sleep.
Experienced patient says he can tell if the weed is high quality
Who: Anthony Floyd
What he bought: Dried weed from Ottawa Medical Dispensary (Magna Terra) and at Weeds
Anthony Floyd says he’s not worried that the dried weed he buys from Ottawa dispensaries will be mouldy or unsafe. The weed is sold illegally and is not regulated by the government. But after two years of medical pot use, Floyd says he has a good appreciation for how marijuana should look, smell, burn and taste. “It’s the same as going to a grocery store and buying an apple. You’d be able to see the mould.”
The idea that customers can’t tell good weed without the advice of professionals is ridiculous, he says. “It’s something anybody would be able to notice.”
Floyd, 24, first tried recreational pot when he was 19. A couple of years ago, a doctor suggested he try marijuana to help regulate his blood sugar. Floyd says it has helped control his diabetes and auto-immune disorders. He tried stopping temporarily, but immediately but got a bald spot on the side of his head.
Floyd also purchases medical marijuana from MariCann, a producer licensed by Health Canada. It has great products, but he has to wait for them to arrive in the mail, said Floyd. He has ADHD. “I’m not the best at remembering to order my medication.” The dispensaries come in handy when he runs out, he said.
He liked the personal service he received at Ottawa Medical Dispensary, recently renamed Magna Terra, on Carling Avenue. And at Weeds on Montreal Road, Floyd said they occasionally offer strains of dried weed for as little as $5 a gram. The price is usually $12 a gram.