Bringing ‘bud’ to Winnipeg’s Bible belt

FILE - In this photo taken Dec. 7, 2015, a worker cleans a display case at the Ganja Goddess Cannabis Store in Seattle. On Monday, June 7, 2021, Washington state officials announced that the state’s nearly 500 licensed marijuana retailers could begin hosting COVID-19 vaccine clinics and offering a single, free pre-rolled marijuana cigarette to any adult over 21 who receives a shot on-site, but due to federal law and other complications, it’s not clear if any of the state’s legal pot shops will participate. A current manager at Ganja Goddess said that they would not be participating because they do not have space to host a clinic. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, WINNIPEG SUN

In an area sometimes referred to as Manitoba’s Bible belt, there has been some serious resistance to cannabis, but one Manitoba couple is now moving forward with a new business that will finally bring legal `weed’ to the southeast.

Sean Stewart and Chryslin Friesen are now in the final stages of preparation, as the married couple plan to open the doors to their brand new Cannabis business AAAAA Supercraft Cannabis in Ste. Anne on June 25.

The town, which is home to approximately 2,000 residents, sits 40-kilometers southeast of Winnipeg.

Ste. Anne was the perfect location for the business according to Stewart for myriad reasons, and also because when they tried to open up in a similar shop in another community they were told they had no chance.

“We live in Steinbach and we originally hoped to open a shop in Steinbach but given the conversations we had we were basically told by everyone it was going to be a hard no, so we knew pretty quickly it wasn’t even something we should bother to pursue,” Stewart said.

“When the idea of Ste. Anne came up, we saw that the council and police chief were on board with a cannabis shop here, so it became an easy process, and we were greenlit pretty quickly.”

And as they looked more at the option of Ste. Anne, Stewart and Friesen said they soon realized they had a chance to open their business in what Stewart said is a “huge and untapped area” when it comes to the Cannabis market.

“In terms of our geographic location it is honestly incredible, as of right now it is just us,” Stewart said.

He has estimated that the area they will serve is home to about 100,000 residents.

He also believes the business’s proximity to the Trans-Canada Highway is something that will result in high customer traffic.

“A huge appeal of the area was that closeness to the highway,” he said. “There are thousands of people travelling up and down that highway every day, and people heading out to their cottages on the weekend.”

When it was first announced that cannabis would be legalized across Canada, Manitoba municipalities were given the option of either permitting retail pot shops in their communities, or holding plebiscites to allow residents to decide if they would like to see these kinds of businesses set up shop.

But one southeastern community resisted even going to the people and simply said they would do whatever they had to do to keep legal cannabis out.

In 2018, the RM of Hanover did not hold a plebiscite, and then announced that council would use whatever bylaws necessary to keep any cannabis business from setting up in the municipality, essentially saying that anyone trying to set up a shop in the RM would get a no vote from council no matter their proposal.

And in both the cities of Steinbach and Winkler residents voted to keep retail cannabis out, with 69% of Steinbach voters and 70% of Winkler voters voting no in a plebiscite in 2018.

Steinbach and Winkler were also among the very last holdouts in Manitoba to ease up on liquor laws, with Winkler voting to allow bars and cocktail lounges in 2003, and Steinbach only opening up to bars and lounges in 2011.

Stewart said that as they now prepare to open, he wants his business to be a place where people can buy products, but also get educated on cannabis.

“Gone are the days of the image of the stoner with a bag of weed and a canoe-shaped joint standing in the alley, he said. “It has become incredibly sophisticated and there has been a lot of adoption of cannabis on many different levels.”

Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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