Skip to main content

'There was a lot of stigma built up': Pot shop owners relive legalization 4 years later


Earlier this week, cannabis legalization quietly celebrated its fourth anniversary, and it's sparking fond memories from pot shop owners who are celebrating the occasion by rehashing their time in the industry.

Jim Southam, co-owner of Prairie Cannabis and co-founder of the Saskatchewan Weed Pool Co-op, said the media hype, the anticipation and initial rollout was a nervous blur as retailers raced to open after regulations were slowly revealed in advance of October 17, 2018.

"It was just really exciting. And we were happy to be, you know, a part of a new industry that hasn't existed before in any of our lifetimes. It was pretty exciting," he said.

After preparing the necessary paperwork, Southam entered a lottery with other prospective owners and managed to get one of the first 51 licenses in Saskatchewan for opening day.

What he remembers most about letting the first few customers in that day was how awkward the experience was for the consumer trying to navigate how to ask and legally buy weed.

"After 100 years of prohibition, there was a lot of stigma built up," Southam said.

As pot smokers were looking to legally fill their stash, retailers were without a stash of their own as October 17 arrived with very little supply across the country.

Cierra Sieben-Chuback had one of the seven Saskatoon and area permits at the time and wasn't able to open her store, Living Skies Cannabis, until December due to the scarce supply.

"We definitely did not have enough cannabis to keep the doors open," she said. "And I just didn't want to let people down. When we first opened up we actually had a two item cannabis limit."

Sieben-Chuback became an overnight sensation after the permit lottery. After she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2016, she began looking towards the benefits of cannabis to help with her struggles.

Once legalization looked like a real possibility shortly afterwards, she started working on a business plan in an entrepreneur class while she was a student at the University of Saskatchewan. With a few tweaks, her imagined business plan for a final grade became a real application for a legal cannabis store.

The day before the deadline to apply for a permit, the then 23-year-old Sieben-Chuback drove to Regina to hand in her papers.

She remembers fielding media interview requests the day after the draw as a part-time cook at a restaurant in Saskatoon.

"Essentially, overnight, people kind of knew who I was, which was a very weird thing for me," she said.

Opening a store comes with its share of growing pains, but being one of the first stores of its kind in Canadian history didn't ease Sieben-Chubak's nerves.

Without any examples to look upon, her staff didn't know what to prepare for.

"That was a scary experience because we didn't know if we were going to get hundreds of people or (if) nobody was going to show up. It was just kind of the fear of the unknown at that point," Sieben-Chuback said looking back at the store's early days.

Since then, plenty has changed. One year after legalization, federal regulations allowed for edibles, concentrates, and other cannabis products to be sold.

Then the pandemic hit, which initially kept stores busy as a section of the population turned to cannabis in the isolating early parts of the pandemic.

Later that year, the provincial government also opened the cap on permits for pot retailers in the province, creating a boon for consumers and a very competitive market for retailers looking to share the market with dozens more stores than ever anticipated.

"Kind of a catch 22 situation, I guess," Southam said. "You can either have a limited number of stores or you open it up to a free market and let anyone that wants to try have at it, so it's a bit of a balancing act."

Southam called the current situation "oversaturated" with some stores in the province having to close because of the lack of foot traffic.

Moving forward, neither Sieben-Chuback or Southam know what the next four years have in store, but they do hope for some changes on the horizon.

Southam would like to see less taxation for retailers as staying competitive with black market pricing has all but wiped out his profits.

Sieben-Chuback would like to see more marginalized people working in the industry altogether. She wants the practice of ID'ing every person that walks in the door to become more like the liquor store policy where staff only have to ask people who look 25 or younger.

She would also like to see some allowance for public consumption, something currently prohibited. And she would also like to see special events permits and other sponsorship opportunities for cannabis retailers. She said if there are plenty of beer gardens at events in the summer sponsored by local breweries, maybe they could have something similar for pot.

No matter what's going to happen in the next four years of legalization, Southam has to remind himself to take a break from all the daily troubles and realize he gets to sell cannabis for a living.

"A few years leading up to legalization there was always the naysayers saying, 'They talked about this before and it never happened,'" he said. "Every day it's still like, 'Oh, I guess they really did legalize it.'" Top Stories

Stay Connected