Written by Brad@cancanbuzz
The alarm sounded at 4:30 AM on April 1, 2019 waking me with a start.
I was excited! Today was the first day the government of Ontario permitted legal, bricks and mortar, dispensaries to operate in Ontario.
It was a cold, winter-like morning, and like most Mondays, the fog of the weekend would take a while to shake out.
This morning I would be heading into downtown Toronto for the inaugural opening of the Hunny Pot Cannabis dispensary on Queen St W. As it turned out, this would end up being the only one of 5 licensed dispensaries in Toronto that would be opening that day, and on time. The others were left frantically working their kinks out, and risked facing government penalties for opening late.
It was 5:30 AM when I drove by The Hunny Pot, with still 3.5 hours to go until opening. I anticipated there would be the die hard few that would bear the elements and line up early for the ability to be able to boast that they had purchased the first legal Cannabis from a brick and mortar location in Ontario. I was right. There was a small gathering of cold, but eager looking soon-to-be clients, huddled together. The media too was out in full force at that time, setting up gear to capture this historic moment on tape, and in print.
I had no intention of lining up for 3.5 hours in -12C temperatures, so I found warmth at a nearby Strabucks. Assuming the crowd would grow as the time got closer to 9AM, I decided to return at 8 AM and gut out the last hour in line. As I neared the location I was shocked to see that a small mob of roughly 35-40 people had gathered in a quasi-organized line – and this line was to only grow in numbers as each minute ticked closer to 9AM.
In the hour lead-up to opening, I got to know the people around me – Ray in his mid 20s, who was on his way to work and decided to drop by and see what the shop was all about. Mr. D, mid to late 50s, who was a long time cannabis user and an advocate of recreational cannabis.
Our small group became a magnet for media interviews and sound bites, approached by the likes of Global, CTV, and the Globe and Mail to name a few. Many of the people declined to be interviewed, but our group was cooperative and articulate, which was undoubtedly why we were the focus of attention.
The hour spent in line had the same energy as waiting for a 70s style stadium rock concert to open its doors, and the bulk of those waiting, fit that profile perfectly. Mostly middle-aged men, with the effects of years of cannabis use showing its impact on their grizzled faces and gravelly voices.
To complete the scene, there were plumes of sweet smelling cannabis smoke wafting over the crowd while many debated where they were legally able to smoke cannabis in public.
At 9 AM the line began to slowly move. There was speculation by the people around me as to what the next step was in the process. As I inched closer to the entrance, the next steps became clear. There was a security guard taking ID at the door to insure that all were of the legal age of 19. This was all very reminiscent of trying to enter a night club with the airport-style retractable ropes that were opened and closed to prevent and allow entry.
Once inside the main door, I was greeted by a receptionist, who again checked my ID. She inquired if I would like to be added to their system, but I declined.
Now in the reception area, I had an opportunity to look at the higher end finishes that Hunny Pot has used to enhance the dispensary experience.
The store itself is located on 3 levels with the bottom level being the check-out/cash area. There was a very elegant, metal logo the read “The Hunny Pot”, on a grass look alike backdrop that was no doubt supposed to pass as a bed of Cannabis.
It was only a few short minutes in the reception area before I was met by my budtender Sarah, who escorted me in and asked about my preference for Cannabis. Flower or oil? Indica or Sativa? As I walked with Sarah, I couldn’t help but think about how closely the store resembled an Apple Store.
Bright lights, clean lines and glassed in display cases all gave it a minimalist look. I was taken to the top floor where the flower was displayed in clear, plexi-glass containers. These were on retractable metal strings allowing one to smell the cannabis as well as inspect the flower more closely with the built in magnifying glass. All of the staff were wearing black t-shirts with an attempt at witty sayings on the back such as “Baked Fresh Daily” or “I Run on Weed and Gangsta Rap”.
Admittedly I felt rushed to make my purchase and leave. This wasn’t the fault of any of the budtenders but rather me being sensitive to the massive line outside in the cold and that access was controlled by a 1 out 1 in method. I couldn’t get a real beat on Sarah’s knowledge. She did ask about the frequency of my use, and went over the THC/CBD content of some of the strains. I didn’t ask any challenging questions and therefore can’t comment on the depth of knowledge of the budtenders at The Hunny Pot.
Each of the butenders are equipped with a tablet and the ordering is done from the floor. Once completed, it is transmitted to the check-out where the orders are “picked” from the dispensary area, bagged and paid for all in the same location. The bags themselves are plastic, plain, and can only hold a small amount of product. I would have thought that with the sensitivity to plastic these days, The Hunny Pot might have elected to use the paper bag/ string handle combo. The OCS has been heavily criticized for its excess packaging, use of plastic etc. I wonder how much the use of plastic in its packaging is cost driven vs. regulatory requirements?
I actually left the Hunny Pot feeling let down. It was a long cold wait, and once inside it was a little overwhelming. Despite the fact that I had a personal budtender to guide me through the process, it would have been nice to have had the time to browse leisurely and get a better orientation of the store and it’s product offerings. Frankly, I should have expected as much on the morning of its first day operation. Although the store itself was modern, bright and clean, this is simply not enough to attract me back to bricks and mortar anytime soon.
Then there is the matter of pricing. The cost per gram of flower ranged from $9.50-$22 gram. I compared the below prices at the Hunny Pot to the OCS website. Granted there is the matter of the $5.00 delivery price from the OCS website that would be saved by buying from a brick and mortar dispensary, but that would be chewed up rapidly by buying from The Hunny Pot in great quantity. Take for example Tangerine Dream. If purchased in the max quantity permitted (30g) there would be a $25.20 difference. Once the $5.00 delivery charge was removed, it would still be $20.20 more expensive to purchase from The Hunny Pot vs. the OCS website. And, that is not even factoring any transportation costs, parking etc. I simply can’t imagine why someone would pay that difference even with the best professional guidance and advice of a budtender.
Many of the dispensary owners indicated they felt that they had won the lottery when they won the opportunity to open one of the few legal dispensaries in Ontario, but only time will tell whether these will remain viable, profitable businesses or whether they will simply go up in smoke.