The trail blazing struggle: For cannabis entrepreneurs, victories don’t come easy

Posted on December 19, 2019 | Sarah Smellie | 0 Comments

Entrepreneur Brett Evans is hoping to get big messages across with the DoobTool, a cannabis carrying case that comes with a Swiss-Army-knife-like array of tools for cutting, crushing and rolling dried flower.

He wants the sleek, clever design and the can-do versatility of the DoobTool to help get rid of the lazy, Cheech-and-Chong-stoner-covered-in-Dorito-dust stereotype.

And he wants people to know that the case is high-quality, Nova Scotia product and that it makes carrying cannabis and rolling on the go easier and a lot cleaner, no matter where that non-stereotypical consumer may be heading.

He’d also love to tell more people that as of last month, the DoobTool is now for sale in all of the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation’s cannabis stores—one of the first and only made-in-Atlantic-Canada products in the stores.

Brett Evans’ company makes the DoobTool.

But in the cannabis business, it’s not quite as easy as buying a few ads. According to federal regulations, the DoobTool’s packaging can’t be seen to appeal to young people, nor can it link the product to “a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.” The same rules apply to DoobTool ads: no promotion, no glamour, and they can’t be placed where kids could see then.

Complicating things further, he says much of his customer base could be easily reached through Facebook and Instagram ads, but Facebook has been notably hostile to cannabis ads on its platforms. Since Facebook owns Instagram, neither are available for the DoobTool.

“You can produce a product but you’re not really allowed to do anything to shed light on that product,” he says.

In order to let his potential customers know that his DoobTool will cater to their active, on-the-go lifestyle, Evans mostly relies on word of mouth, media hits and visits to his website. And he’s determined to make it work.

“I think it’s kind of just what you have to go through to be a trailblazer in an industry,” he says. “These are just the prices you pay, right?”

‘It’s a hard go’

Gilliane Nadeau also sees big possibilities in cannabis for her New Brunswick-based business, Uncorked Wine Tours. Uncorked will be offering cannabis tours in Saint John beginning in April, 2020 (think about that date for a second) and Nadeau says they’re the result of a lot of close work with Health Canada to understand what she could and could not do.

“Is there an opportunity? Absolutely. Is regulation forcing people to be more creative in how they go about it? For sure,” she says.

She’s found some relief from the advertising regulations by marketing Uncorked’s brand and its entire suite of tours, which include wine, beer and wine-beer-and-cider tours, seafood tours and even custom tasting parties. If she only had the cannabis tour on offer, there would definitely be more headaches, she said.

“It’s a hard go for anybody looking exclusively to have a cannabis tourism business,” she said.

Gilliane Nadeau operates Uncorked Tours in Saint John, New Bruncswick.

She’s also found some leeway by focusing on education rather than consumption, she said. Uncorked’s Cannabis 101 tour will walk visitors through the history of cannabis, tracing the story of its use and legalization, while digging into the science of how its grown and how the strains differ.

Unlike the wine and beer tours, the cannabis tour comes with a major footnote on Uncorked’s website: “No cannabis is supplied on this tour and public consumption is not permitted in New Brunswick.”

Pointing to the Lowell Cafe in Los Angeles, the first-ever cannabis cafe in the U.S., Nadeau says she’d love to offer people a public place like a cafe to consume cannabis. She hopes the rules will allow for it some day.

“People are already doing it so we might as well give them a space to do it,” she says.

Both Nadeau and Evans think the rules will ease up and make way for entrepreneurs like them, and say they’re ready to do the work and wait out the storms.

“This is a long term play for us,” Evans says. “I’m not playing for the gratification of the next five years, I’m looking at what this industry is going to be 40 years from now.”

STAY TUNED: We take a look at the promise of an Atlantic Canadian cannabis tourism industry in our January print edition.

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