Article by Brian Hutchinson, MacLean’s
“I’d still like to be the Starbucks of weed,” says Jodie Emery, fresh from her first strip-search jail stint. After an arrest in Toronto, she’s back in Vancouver, sipping a latte inside a busy West Hastings Street cafe. Across the street is her grungy Cannabis Culture headquarters. Which, because of certain Ontario court bail conditions laid down in March, she cannot visit.
She clings to her dream of building a retail network into “the most recognized brand in retail storefronts and lounges.” A string of Cannabis Culture franchises across Canada. Shelves filled with top-notch pot. Smoking lounges. Special appearances with herself, the photogenic, friendly face behind the family brand. Free dab hits courtesy of her husband, the irascible Marc (a dab, for the uninitiated, is a highly concentrated form of cannabis, usually smoked directly from a hot surface or flame).
The couple had seemed on their way, meeting goals on their own terms, outside the law. They found business partners and opened 15 Cannabis Culture “dispensaries” in a handful of cities. The Emerys eschewed buy-in fees from their franchisees—they had contemplated charging $25,000 up front—instead charging six or seven per cent of gross sales. Anyone aged 19 years or older could buy their weed, and many did.
That was until police—in Montreal, just before Christmas, and then in Toronto and Hamilton—got all police-like and raided Cannabis Culture shops in those cities. Three franchises in laissez-faire Vancouver were left untouched and are still open.
Marc and Jodie were last arrested March 8 at Pearson International Airport. They were charged with a variety of criminal offences related to marijuana, including trafficking. Marc remains in Toronto with bail conditions, while Jodie was allowed to return to her home in Vancouver. Their first court appearance in Toronto is scheduled in April. For his part, Marc suggests he’s done with retail pot—at least directly. “We’ll ultimately work with some company, lending our likeness to some kind of enterprise,” he says from Toronto. Will he try to get back into sales? “Goodness no.”
Jodie isn’t on the same page. “I have only ever known my Cannabis Culture business, and I don’t want to give up on the dream that I was building out. [But] I only intend to work in the cannabis distribution or retail industry legally,” she says.
She’s been approached by a Vancouver-area company that owns a federal medical marijuana production licence (a “licensed producer,” or LP). The company tried recruiting her with some sort of role if she would quit criticizing its business. She says she just laughed.