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When weed is on your shopping list

What was once unimaginable in Canada is suddenly legal and oh, so ordinary

Opinion

Welcome to Jen Tries, a semi-regular feature in which Free Press columnist Jen Zoratti will try something new and report back. In this instalment, Jen Tries... legally purchasing cannabis.

I have never purchased weed, legal or otherwise. I don’t partake, and I ambivalently observed the furor surrounding legalization last fall from the periphery.

But post-legalization, I was curious about the actual mechanics of buying legal cannabis. I mean, it’s weird, right? It’s hard to wrap your mind around walking into one of these sleek stores, buying a product that was once illegal and remains mostly illegal everywhere else in the world — with your debit card! — and getting a receipt for it.

There’s also the intimidation factor, especially if you’re new to — and/or perhaps feel some residual shame about — the subject. So, I thought I’d try out the act of actually purchasing cannabis from a licensed retailer, and report back to those who might be curious, nervous, intimidated or all of the above.

Jen Zoratti outside Tokyo Smoke in Osborne Village, where she received an informative tour that included descriptions of the varieties of marijuana on offer. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Jen Zoratti outside Tokyo Smoke in Osborne Village, where she received an informative tour that included descriptions of the varieties of marijuana on offer. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

If you’re a newbie like me, you may feel outsized pressure to know exactly what you’re looking for. Buying cannabis is not necessarily as straightforward as other consumables. Even if you don’t know your flat whites from your long blacks, you can still enter a coffee shop and order coffee. It’s not like you can walk into a cannabis retailer and say, "One medium weed, please."

But just as you don’t need to be a wine snob to buy wine or a coffee snob to buy coffee, you don’t need to be an expert to buy weed. In fact, you don’t have to have any knowledge whatsoever. In both places I purchased from — Tweed and Tokyo Smoke, both in Osborne Village — I had pleasant and informative interactions with the knowledgeable, friendly, pressure-free staff who approached me right away.

Before you can get into the promised land, however, you have to show your ID. Unlike a liquor store, where you show your ID at the till, cannabis retailers ID you upon entry, which makes you feel less like you’re doing something bad and more like you’re entering some exclusive club.

Walking into both stores, I still felt like I was doing something illicit; leaving, I felt like I had just... run an errand. It’s amazing how quickly the novel becomes normal.

‘Hip lifestyle boutique’ is certainly the vibe at Tweed; they even retail Diane Keaton’s style book The House That Pinterest Built. My sales associate nodded in agreement. "It reminds people of Sears or something, which helps nervous people feel more comfortable," he said. (Sears is not the first retailer that came to mind for me, but the point stands: it’s welcoming, and comfortable.) A handful of other people were shopping Tuesday afternoon, mostly middle-aged men.

The dissonance between the slickly branded boutique spaces in which cannabis is retailed and the plain, government-mandated packaging in which it is sold is hilariously striking. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The dissonance between the slickly branded boutique spaces in which cannabis is retailed and the plain, government-mandated packaging in which it is sold is hilariously striking. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Physically entering a brick-and-mortar shop and have someone act as your, um, trip adviser is helpful. They will ask you some questions about your habits (whether you smoke, vape, etc.) or, if you’re a would-be imbiber, how you’d visualize yourself consuming it. They will also ask you what kind of sensation you’re after, which for me was "not anxious." It was recommended to me to steer clear of sativas for now and go for the Plain Packaging indica, which is said to be more mellow.

I purchased 3.5 grams, as it was not available in single grams due to the patchy availability in Canadian stores. It came to $31.49 after tax; only GST is charged on cannabis in Manitoba.

The dissonance between the slickly branded boutique spaces in which cannabis is retailed and the plain, government-mandated packaging in which it is sold is hilariously striking, and underscores just how differently alcohol and cannabis are marketed in this country.

Legal cannabis looks like a prescription, emblazoned with a black-on-yellow warning label. The 3.5-gram container, for example, looks like a topical corticosteroid cream, which is probably why the label offers a rather self-conscious assurance that "it’s more interesting inside" in delicate italic. (I also received Know My Limits pamphlets from Manitoba’s Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority, as well as a one-page Goverment of Canada info sheet outlining consumption basics and a few general legal rules.)

Unlike my pretty bottles of Sauvignon Blanc, which are deliberately designed to look as seductive as possible on the shelf and then are slid into non-descript paper bags, plain-jane cannabis packages are slipped into trendy little totes.

Based on her intent to 'pause,' Jen chose Utopia, which pairs well with napping and watching mindless TV. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Based on her intent to 'pause,' Jen chose Utopia, which pairs well with napping and watching mindless TV. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

As I rounded the corner to Tokyo Smoke, a young man asked me where "the dispensary" was. I wasn’t carrying a branded bag, so I suppose it was my "I purchased weed recently" glow.

Tokyo Smoke has a highly curated, Instagram-friendly esthetic — right down to the potted succulents. It’s often likened to the Apple Store, but it’s got a distinct David’s Tea-meets-wellness shop thing going on as well. It’s modern, but organic. Cool, yet warm.

The woman who assisted me did so with zero judgment after I confessed my inexperience to her. "You’re my favourite kind of customer," she said, and gave me an informative tour of the shop. For a Tuesday afternoon, it was quite busy, with a wide cross-section of people buying bud.

The cannabis here is categorized by "intent": Pause, Ease, Equalize, Rise, and Go. Each product is accompanied by a beautifully designed information card, which tells you how much THC and CBD the product includes, the "terpene notes" — which refer to the organic compounds that give individual varietals distinct aromas (think citrus, floral, spice, earth) — and a suggested pairing.

Based on my intent to "pause," I chose (with help, of course) Utopia, which is indica-leaning and pairs well with "napping in a sweet hammock" or "streaming a mindless show." (Tokyo Smoke also provides artful little journals where one can document their Spark Notes: how you ingested it, how long before you felt it, how long the feeling lasted, and where you felt it the most.)

I purchased one gram, which came to $13.65 after tax, according to my receipt. (My receipt!)

OK, so maybe the novelty hasn’t worn off.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

Read full biography

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History

Updated on Wednesday, January 16, 2019 at 9:56 AM CST: Corrects typo

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