Article by Jodie Emery, Cannabis Culture
Cannabis Culture is a 24-year-old name and brand recognized worldwide for many reasons, all related to cannabis advocacy and activism. While my husband Marc Emery was the founder, owner and operator beginning in 1994, I was the owner and operator from late 2009 onward.
My involvement in Cannabis Culture officially began in February 2005, when I was hired as the assistant editor of Cannabis Culture Magazine by Marc Emery, who would become my husband the following year. I appeared on Pot TV videos, and ran for office with the British Columbia Marijuana Party in 2005 and a by-election in 2008.
Marc Emery was arrested by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents and Canadian police in July 2005 in Canada for his legalization leadership and funding of activism through the sale of cannabis seeds, as outlined in the D.E.A. press release announcing his arrest for extradition to the United States.
During Marc’s court process and legal fight against extradition, I was promoted to editor of Cannabis Culture Magazine, while also running for provincial office with the British Columbia Green Party in 2009. I was also the policing and crime critic.
In late 2009, my husband agreed to a five-year plea deal in the United States, which he was ordered extradited for in May 2010. I became the owner and operator of Cannabis Culture Magazine, Pot TV, and the Cannabis Culture headshop and vapour lounge, all of which have always paid taxes and operated openly and transparently since they began, as far back as 1994 when Marc Emery launched his cannabis activism business model.
With my husband imprisoned in Georgia and Mississippi, where I visited him nearly every other weekend for a total of 81 visits, I was in charge of running the businesses and carrying on the advocacy for cannabis legalization.
I worked very hard through extremely difficult circumstances, and continued devoting my life to activism. I spent all of my time managing my small businesses, organizing political protests and rallies, being interviewed by media, speaking at conferences and government legislatures throughout North America, running for office again with the B.C. Green Party in 2013, and campaigning for the Liberal Party of Canada throughout 2014 and 2015.
In August 2014, after five years of operating the single standalone Cannabis Culture headshop and vapour lounge in Vancouver, I welcomed my husband home after his release from U.S. prison. We had suffered emotionally, financially, and in many other ways from the ordeal, but we had both continued campaigning for legalization in U.S. states, Canada and abroad.
With the costs of legal fees, prison expenses, and more hardships, we were struggling to keep the Cannabis Culture magazine, headshop and vapour lounge business afloat, which was affecting our ability to support the activism and political work we’ve always dedicated our livelihoods to.
In January 2016, as the owner and operator of Cannabis Culture, I decided to engage in a new approach of peaceful civil disobedience. I wanted to demonstrate what legalization should look like, raise money for activism efforts, and promote our message of cannabis freedom, dignity and equality. I wanted to open adult-use cannabis dispensaries with an activism mission.
All of the other dispensaries operating at that point were providing access to people who required or requested it for medical reasons because of the lack of access provided by the government. Court decisions had repeatedly declared Health Canada’s medical marijuana access as insufficient, and failing to protect the Charter rights of patients. As such, many dispensaries employed doctors or medical practitioners to recommend cannabis to patients, to give them some kind of protection and access, which were not reliably or easily available from Health Canada.
The medical dispensary model served (and continues to serve) hundreds of thousands of people who need and benefit from cannabis, but who cannot access it through the Health Canada medical program for various reasons. Those reasons include high prices with minimum required order amounts; lack of credit card funds for online ordering; unstable or changing home addresses; unwilling doctors who won’t sign paperwork; and other barriers to access.
With recreational legalization on the horizon, I felt it was time for Cannabis Culture to create a new model of retail adult-use distribution, to demonstrate what legalization should look like with respect to legal cannabis sales. Our new business approach was modelled after Marc Emery’s decades of successful civil disobedience and law reform supported by the income from cannabis-focused businesses.
The shops would be inspired by the Amsterdam coffeeshop model, where adults can access cannabis without any medical paperwork or necessity. Some franchise locations would be combination lounges, based on our long-standing Vancouver vapour lounge model.
Because our company did not have the financial means to open new locations, I decided to go forward with a franchise model. We would offer our trusted, recognized name to entrepreneurs and small business owners who wanted to open retail storefronts. In return, they would pay a small franchise fee and help grow the brand and fund political activism campaigns.
At the time of our arrest on March 8, 2017, we did not have a finalized franchise deal, though we were working with lawyers to create one. (All of those notes about various arrangements and suggestions are included in the disclosure files.)
Our franchise model would be accessible by design, and grow slowly to prove our brand was effective at raising publicity for our activism message, and customer interest to finance our activism model.
Cannabis Culture wouldn’t ask for a buy-in fee for the first wave of storefronts. Most of the franchises paid a 4% gross royalty fee that went up to 6% gross after six months. We later added a $3,000/month per franchisee (owner; not location) fee for activism and administration costs to some locations, though this was only in effect for a brief period before the “Project Gator” raids and arrests.
The first Cannabis Culture franchise retail storefront opened in Vancouver at 512 Beatty Street on April 29, 2016. The second franchise opened in Toronto at 801 Queen Street West on May 27, 2016. The third franchise opened in Toronto at 711 Queen Street East on June 18, 2016. Many more would follow.
Marc Emery became a franchise owner for a Toronto shop on Church Street beginning September, 2016. To simplify the franchise arrangement as we worked out the details for what we wanted to officially offer to entrepreneurs, we charged a 6% gross flat fee, with no buy-in or additional costs. We offered the same deal to Britney Guerra for a Hamilton franchise shop that opened November 15, 2016.
From that point onward, a total of 18 locations opened up to March 2017 in Toronto, Vancouver, Port Coquitlam, Peterborough, Hamilton, Montreal and Ottawa. However, most if not all were raided and closed immediately, or after short periods of time; others were shut down because of landlord concerns or other issues.
Just before my arrest on March 8, 2017, I was finalizing the details of our Cannabis Culture franchise model, which I was planning to send to the 300+ individuals, entrepreneurs, activists and business owners who contacted me asking to open Cannabis Culture locations.
We were planning to request a $10,000 buy-in fee from prospective franchisees, and a 6% gross royalty for the first six months, going up to 7% after that point. We would require the owner pay for rent, employees, taxes, and lawyer fees for any law enforcement encounters related to the stores and staff.
In return, Marc Emery and/or myself would show up at store openings (and re-openings in the case of raids happening) as representatives of the brand, and our company would provide design and layout guidelines for the stores. We would promote the locations in our media and social media outlets, reminding everyone that when they shopped at Cannabis Culture, they were supporting our activism efforts and outreach.
We hoped to help craft growers come out of the shadows of prohibition and into the light of legalization, through enabling them to provide their products to private storefronts. We were offering a service and product desired by a large number of adult citizens, as demonstrated by line-ups of hundreds of people outside a number of locations.
My arrest and the raids of “Project Gator” in March 2017 put an end to that entire plan before it even really began. Almost all Cannabis Culture locations are now permanently closed, and expansion plans are indefinitely halted. The goal was always to promote legalization and become legal ourselves, but upon facing serious criminal charges for our peaceful civil disobedience, I am now sidelined and unable to participate in the legal industry.