Cannabis shops finally open in Lacombe

Matt Panelli and Steve Bigg, co-owners of Merry Guanas, located at 104-4711 49B Ave., are preparing to open one of at least four cannabis retail shops in the city within the next couple of weeks. The two have been waiting for about two years to finally open the door to the locally-owned store. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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There’s a new green scene in downtown Lacombe as a total of four cannabis dispensaries are in the midst of opening.

Fuzzy Budz became the first to open last week, and will soon be followed by the opening of Merry Guanas on Thursday, Aug. 1, thanks to the Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) Commission’s lift on the retail cannabis licence moratorium at the end of May.

The four stores, which also include Canna Cabana and MJAYZ Cannabis Corp., will actually give Lacombe and it’s 13,000 residents more cannabis stores than nearby Red Deer with over 100,000 residents.

Matt Panelli and Steve Bigg, co-owners of Merry Guanas who have been waiting for the better of two years to open in the community, said it’s because Lacombe  proved to be one of the more open municipalities to the industry.

“Lacombe was one of the most business friendly municipalities early in the process in how they were setting up,” said Panelli. “Because you have to have a signed lease or notice of intent before you put in an application, you had to do a lot of best guessing and risk managing – people were signing leases not knowing if the location would be compliant, so for people like Steve and I that don’t have deep pockets…Lacombe made sense.”

The other three, and a soon-to-be-fourth, all set to be located within a block of each other, clearly thought so, too, but Panelli and Bigg aren’t worried about the nearby competition.

“We see this as a benefit – a lot of people wonder hwo five stores are going to survive in such a small area, but once edibles come in, we think five stores can survive comfortably,” said Panelli.

“We think Lacombe has the potential – and I don’t know how much the locals will love the idea – to become a cannabis district. You can park in one spot, visit five different locations and see what else is out there.”

At present, there’s about 250 products available through AGLC, with most stores carrying about 30-40, depending on stock and what people are interested in.

With products regulated, however, where the shops have to differentiate themselves is in the experience, and the two believe their store will offer just that.

“Our goal is to provide more of a lifestyle purchasing experience than a transaction one. A lot of these stores are very pharmacy or jewellery store concept stores. Ours is going to be more of a chill environment,” said Bigg.

“A lot of the other stores are information-based and go into what we call the ‘voodoo’ of it – the pseudo-science. We just don’t believe there enough science to go down that road and we’re not allowed to give medical advice anyways. We’re going for experience,” said Panelli.

That experience includes addressing some of the concerns surrounding the legalization of cannabis, with the two making effort to attend every town hall they were able to in the area to explain the industry, from concerns over smell, to how legalization would ultimately benefit communities and keep the substance out of the hands of children.

“Older generations spent their whole life being told marijuana is a dangerous drug. I think the more people educte themselves, the quicker that’s going to go away,” said Bigg. “A lot of it was just fearmongering – the government was putting a lot of misinformation of the dangers of cannabis – obviously they’re starting to backpedal and I think that will help eradicate some of the stigma.

“What I’m finding is people aren’t necessarily in favour of it, but they’re not necessarily against it either. You see a lot of indifference.”

Now, concern has shifted to the difference in price between the legalized marijuana, and what’s sold on the black market.

“We knew this was going to happen. The legal market has a lot of hands in the pie…in the black market, you have the producer and the distributor so of course they’ll always be able to beat you in price,” said Panelli.

“What you’re purchasing when you go to a legitimate store is knowing what you’re getting. Everything is guaranteed by AGLC to be dried to a certain standard so you know there’s no mould – there’s checks and balances so you know what you’re putting into your body is as clean as possible.”

In addition, he said there’s the benefit of supporting the local economy, rather than shady business black market dealers may be involved in, by enabling them to keep running, and therfore paying taxes which have the potential to fund a variety of beneficial community projects and programs.

That’s one of the reasons Panelli and Biggs believe some of the opposition to the legalization of cannabis will fade in years to come.

“It creates jobs, it creates facilities…All this money builds our economy significantly and people need to understand that this is exactly what Canada needs,” he said, noting there’s now opportunities for  Canada to create an international market, whether it’s growing and producing marijuana, or helping other countries figure out how to legalize cannabis.

it creates jobs, it creates facilities…all this money builds our economy signifcantly. and ppl need to understand that this is exactly what Canada needs,” he said. “It’ll take a few years, but most of the naysayers will feel a little sheepish once they see how little of an issue it is.”

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