Pubdate: Wed, 25 Feb 2015
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Bill Dunphy
Page: A12


City's Estimated 50,000 Users Well Served by Retail

In many ways, the recently opened Crazy Bill's on Upper Ottawa Street 
(the family's third location in a growing chain) is the antithesis of 
the classic head shop: It's large, bright and airy and the huge 
inventory is meticulously organized and laid out in neat, well-lit 
display cases.

It could be a jewelry store or a computer parts supply place - but 
it's a head shop selling everything from $1.29 Zig-Zag rolling papers 
to a $1,000 limited edition Herbalizer electronic vaporizer.

It's a far cry from the black light posters and spacey music of your 
parents' head shop and very different from the activism-inspired 
efforts of people such as Melanheadz's Peter Melanson, Kush Pixie's 
Rebecca Bruce or Chris Goodwin's Up in Smoke cafe.

While the activist community is fighting for the creation of a 
regulated marijuana marketplace, other businesses like Crazy Bill's 
(owned by the Boake family of Brantford) are focusing and thriving on 
the growing and unambiguously legal market for "paraphernalia" (glass 
pipes, vaporizers, rolling papers, etc.).

And that part of the cannabis business is doing very well in 
Hamilton, evidence of the strong and growing use of cannabis in the city.

How strong and growing? Convenience stores in every corner of the 
city sell papers, pipes and weigh scales. Some even sell marijuana seeds.

Getting real numbers is tough. Extrapolating from federal and 
provincial data supplied by Health Canada, a reasonable estimate pegs 
the number of cannabis-using Hamiltonians at 50,000 or more.

Similar extrapolations suggest Hamilton has about 600 people who hold 
legal permits to possess medical marijuana.

Many believe that last number is expected to explode over the next 
decade, perhaps tenfold, as the federal government struggles to 
create a multibillion-dollar industry to supply legal, regulated 
medical marijuana to Canadians.

More than 1,200 companies have applied for permission to begin 
producing medicinal pot, including one with former Ontario premier 
Ernie Eves on the board. At least three are known to come from the 
Hamilton region.

So far Health Canada has approved 23 producers, 15 of which have 
begun registering patients.

In anticipation of the growth of medicinal marijuana users, companies 
have sprung up offering to guide consumers and their physicians 
through that process - even connect them to a doctor by Skype to 
obtain a prescription - for a fee that runs as high as $400.

One of them, MedCannAccess, opened an office in downtown Hamilton last August.

But while the supply and access end of the business remains somewhat 
speculative, when it comes to the hardware, we're seeing hard 
evidence of growth in local head shops.

The Crazy Bill's chain is one of them. The family-run business's move 
to meet the needs of the cannabis community began when Bill Boake 
made room in his Brantford convenience store for a few of his son's 
glass-blowing efforts - pipes for smoking marijuana. They sold well 
and he added other inventory. In short order, the pipe shelf became a 
cabinet, the cabinet became two and then three and then four and 
finally the cannabis merchandise crowded out most of the other inventory.

Eight years ago this month, they opened a head shop on King Street in 
downtown Hamilton, one of only two or three in the city at that time, 
remembers Bill's son, Ryan Boake. Now there are nearly a dozen.

A soft-spoken, neatly groomed retailer, who wouldn't look out of 
place managing a stationery store, Boake is proud of their third 
store, opened six months ago in about 2,000 square feet of an Upper 
Ottawa strip mall on the Mountain.

Asked how the expansion is working out, Boake says "we've only been 
here eight months and already we're running out of room."

He also says they hit monthly revenue targets in their Mountain 
location that took five years to reach at the downtown store.

"Hopefully it won't take us this long to open our next store."

He says he's already planning his next location.

Down the hill - also on Ottawa, coincidentally - is another mainstay 
of the Hamilton head shop scene: James Lloyd, owner of Where Heads 
Meet. His second store is slated to reopen in March after being 
shuttered by a fire in a neighbouring building.

Where the Boakes are probably typical of a modern managed family 
business, Lloyd comes from a scrappier Hamilton entrepreneur mould - 
he's constantly on the lookout for opportunities to leverage his 
retail knowledge to make a new buck.

"I'm also a liquidator," he explains, "a buyer as well as a seller," 
and then describes buying up stock from a pair of distressed 
mother/baby stores and opening up a temporary "Where Moms Meet" store 
in a nearby storefront he leases.

In addition to the usual glass and other head shop paraphernalia, 
Where Heads Meet features clothing and sculpture and something like 
40,000 vinyl records, most in a basement showroom. The north wall is 
nearly full of a rather amazing assortment of masks - African, South 
American, Pacific and native, the remainder of a 1,200-strong 
collection he bought from a collector who was downsizing from a 
farmhouse to a Toronto condo.

Lloyd opened in 2009 and says he's seen the cannabis community - and 
market - wax and wane in the years since and notes that he himself 
has bought up the inventory of something like 10 failed head shops in 
that time.

He's a believer in the medicinal uses of marijuana and says he's glad 
that some of the social stigma around using cannabis seems to be 
lifting, but he adds, "I'm not a big flag waver (for the legalization 

Still while he is a realist in terms of the expansion/contraction 
cycles of any business, there's no question he's seeing growth - he 
recently returned from a buying trip to Montreal, where he's in the 
process of acquiring enough inventory from a failed business there - 
more than $200,000 worth - which, he says, "will turn me into a wholesaler."



It had been prohibited in Canada since 1923 but things changed in 
2000 when the courts ruled that patients had a legal right to 
doctor-prescribed medicinal marijuana. In response, the government 
created a centrally regulated system that allowed patients to buy the 
drug from a government-approved grower, grow it themselves or have a 
"designated grower" provide it. Users complained about high prices, 
poor quality and inconsistent supply from the government grower; 
opponents complained about dangerous grow ops and product redirected 
to the black market. The government killed those regulations last 
April and is trying to build a billion-dollar industry to supply 
cannabis directly to users with a valid prescription. But fears of 
high prices and objections to the industrialization of the supply 
process led to an emergency injunction request last March that left 
the new rules in limbo while a constitutional challenge works its way 
through the courts. That case is being heard this w! eek, although 
it's unclear just how quickly the rules will - or won't - change as a 
result of this case.
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