Driving down Highway 401 in southern Ontario, with the FM dial tuned to 87.9, the 1990s-era rap music fades into an ad, offering a free joint with every purchase over $20 between midnight and 4:20 a.m. at the Pot Shoppe.
A second ad then promotes a “car show for Jeeps” in the parking lot of the Pot Shoppe every Tuesday night.
“Don’t forget, we have free coffee for the driver and our famous Pot Shoppe slushies at half-price for the passenger,” the ad says. “THC-infused slushies — just a little more brain freeze.”
The transmission tower for the station — Real Peoples Radio — stands over a small shack that was once the second cannabis store to open in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, located about 200 kilometres east of Toronto. That shack is now the broadcasting studio for a pirate radio station that lives on the edge of the radio dial, and also streams online.
Behind the microphone is Joseph Owl, from Serpent River First Nation, Ont., a full-time DJ at the station who hosts the 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. show.
Owl was offered the job through friends and started working at the station at the start of June.
“This is the best [employment] opportunity I’ve come across,” he said.
The station is one of many offshoots from a cannabis-infused economic boom in this Mohawk community of 2,100, nestled on the shores of the Bay of Quinte, between Belleville and Kingston, and just a short drive from Prince Edward County, a growing tourism hotspot.
There are dozens of cannabis stores here — some estimates place the number between 40 and 50 — with names like Smoke Signals, Better Buds, Legacy 420, Peacemaker 420, Buddy’s Dispensary, Fiddler’s Green and Cannabis Convenience.
Cannabis plants sprout outside the front doors of some homes and hundreds more line the surrounding back lots and fields, for harvesting in late summer or early fall.
The community is dotted with renovation and construction projects, including several new gas stations and at least one new franchise restaurant.
Much of it is attributed to the influx of cash coming from sales at local cannabis stores, then spreading throughout the community.
“It’s a straight up economic boom,” said Jamie Kunkel, who owns one of the local shops, Smoke Signals.
‘Thousands of cars on a daily basis’
Money was already coming into the community from outside customers looking for cheaper gas and cigarettes, Kunkel said. But the increased traffic from cannabis stores has meant more revenue for existing businesses.
“All the stores that existed prior to cannabis were all running busy all day long, making good money,” said Kunkel. “You get the big rush coming in from the cannabis, thousands of extra cars on a daily basis…. Now there’s lineups for cigarettes, lineups for gas.”
Kunkel said his own cannabis business has grown exponentially since he began a little over three years ago. He was involved with a business partner and then branched out on his own, opening a store out of his home before constructing a separate shop and eventually franchising out to four other First Nations in Ontario.
He also bought the land adjacent to his storefront to run an annual Indigenous “Cannabis Cup” event; hip-hop group Naughty by Nature performed this year.