After decades of trailblazing cannabis-related retail — often under police scrutiny — Calgary head shops say legal recreational marijuana offers them a hazy future.
Despite a perception looming legislative changes might affirm their bong and roach clip business model, those first in on cannabis monetization say the coming reality leaves them in uncharted waters.
It’s not entirely clear what head shops’ role will be in the sale of legal bud, or if coming pot dispensaries will burn their business by also selling accessories, said Fred Pattison, owner of the Next Level store.
Even marijuana’s mainstreaming and the expansion of e-retail poses a threat, he said.
“We used to be the trendy, cool, way-out-there place,” said Pattison.
“Now people don’t need us, they can get stuff online … and the dispensaries will want to sell everything else, pipes, papers and bongs along with cannabis.”
The retailer, who’s been in business since 2004, said he might also be going into direct marijuana sales in fear of missing a lucrative boat, but added, “I’m not looking into selling cannabis until I can.”
He also notes the provincial government has already claimed online cannabis sales for itself, while leaving storefront marketing to the private sector.
“You’re not only in competition with the black market, but with the government,” he said.
Customers, he said, already tell him they’re disappointed he’s not selling weed yet.
City officials say they’re still waiting for the province to supply details on issues like zoning and licensing for marijuana dispensaries.
Over at Hemp Roots in Montgomery, owner Vlassis Douvis said he’s already secured separate storefront space that’d be used as a dispensary.
“But we don’t even know if they’ll let stores like mine sell bud,” said Douvis, who’s been in the paraphernalia business for 13 years.
His daughter Angelina, who runs the family business’s other location, said if the province and city grant a level playing field for existing players and new ones, they’d be happy to compete in the new legal pot sweepstakes.
“We’re doing our best to be prepared for the legislation and just working with our best assumptions right now,” she said.
Their experience and loyal customer base gives them “a slight advantage” when legalization arrives next summer.
And both welcome the legal reforms on a number of levels.
“It’s a wonderful thing for businesses like ours and it’s a good move in general from a social standpoint,” said Angelina Douvis.
Since legalization became inevitable, business has picked up slightly, though that might be due more to a reviving economy, she said.
But she has noticed a change in patronage with the seeming relaxation of attitudes.
“There’s some new clientele, older people expressing interest — it’s a little more diverse,” said Douvis.
For now, the stores are doing a good Christmas business, with higher end items like vaporizers and deluxe bongs finding places under the tree, said the two.
“The Da Vinci IQ vaporizer is a hot item and so are seasonally flavoured rolling papers like peppermint and maple,” said Douvis.