Cannabis shop fights stigma

In only a few days time another store will be opening to the public of Fort Frances and the surrounding area to both serve up and educate customers about legal cannabis.

Chris Matheson is the owner of Borderland Cannabis, a local retail outlet that will see its first day of business on Tuesday, April 20 on the corner of Mowat Ave. and Church Street. For Matheson, born and raised in Fort Frances and a member of Mitaanjigamiing First Nation, the store has been a long time in the making, and he’s excited that he’s nearing the finish line.

“Last July I decided to see if we could open a store here [in Fort Frances],” Matheson said.

“I did a business plan and market analysis and realized we could, so in July of last year we applied for an operators license from the AGCO (Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario). We received that at the end of August, and once you receive that and go through vetting for the Government, you can apply for a Retail Store Authorization (RSA) license and that’s what brought us here. We signed out lease in the first week of October and applied for the RSA that week and we’ve been sitting in the queue since then.”

To put that wait into perspective, Matheson said that when he started the process to open his store, there were 90 cannabis stores in the province. Now that all is said and done and the store is about to open, Borderland Cannabis will be roughly the 550th cannabis store to open, with roughly 1,500 stores waiting in line behind it, Matheson said, demonstrating just how high the demand to open stores was, when the province began the process.

“I’m happy I got into the queue when I did, and for all the hard work everybody did to get us to this point,” he said.

“If we were even another two days, we could have been waiting until July [to open,] that’s how fast it was moving forward. All the regulations and licensing, this whole process has been interesting and fun. I’ve been right involved in it and we’re ready.”

Once the store has opened to the public, customers 19 of age and older will be able to enter and use a digital display system on several tablets to browse the available products and submit their order. Budtenders will also be available to help potential customers learn more about what they’re looking for and the types of products available. The process should take minutes, with online ordering and curbside pickup also available. Matheson said the store will be aiming for high quality products and accessories and should have a wide enough selection that there will be something for everyone.

“We can bring in anything that OCS (Ontario Cannabis Store) has into the store,” he said.

“It depends on if they have the product in their system. Right now OCS has over 1,600 different kinds of products that I can order from, including oils, flower, topicals, edibles, drinks, all that sort of stuff. We’ll have all of those in store and if people want they can come talk to us and we can try to bring something in for them as well. Same with our accessories. We’re trying to go top-quality accessories with our wholesalers and that’s what we’re stocking our store with.”

For customers who aren’t familiar or comfortable with cannabis products, Matheson said the store will also be able to do one-on-one consults 15 minutes before or after the store’s regular hours. This bookable session time, Matheson explained, is just another tool in his belt to help customers have a good experience, potentially for the first time, and help to further destigmatize cannabis use.

“Our motto is going to be ‘low and slow,'” he said.

“If you’re a new user, we’re not going to give you that high-end THC, and if you’re looking for something more CBD related, we’ll definitely do that.”

For the unaware, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the compound in cannabis products that is responsible for the “high,” while CBD (cannabidiol) is another that generally lacks the euphoric or sedative properties. Anecdotal evidence suggests that CBD can have beneficial effects for those suffering from chronic pains or other conditions, but Matheson stressed that neither he nor his staff can offer any kind of medical advice when it comes to the products they will have available.

While the newest stay-at-home order means that Matheson won’t be able to open his store to in-person shopping on opening day, he said they will still be available for online ordering and curbside pickup. There are also plans to hold some kind of grand opening ceremony when restrictions ease, but until then Matheson and his team are excited to open and will be available to help fill the needs of the community while also providing the best education they can.

“We’re here to educate, to help people and customers understand it’s now a legal market just like alcohol or tobacco,” he said.

“We’re here to fight the stigma, to help people learn.”

For more information about Borderland Cannabis, including staff profiles, Ontario’s cannabis regulations and products available for purchase, keep an eye on their website at borderlandcannabis.com.

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