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Education is Key to Removing Stigma

Vancouver realtor Hindy Ratner believes that with more education, many baby boomers would substitute cannabis in place of their over-the-counter and prescription drugs. “A lot of them drink too much, too,” says Ratner. “I think it’s a lot healthier to substitute some of that alcohol with cannabis.”

Ratner buys her cannabis from Atheneum Cannabis, which opened in Kerrisdale May 2, despite delays caused by COVID-19. Ratner says not only have staff at the store been helpful in her education around cannabis, her children also encouraged her to explore its many health benefits. Ratner uses cannabis oils and supplements to help ease the aches and pains common to baby boomers, and to help her sleep. “Most of the people I know are using sleeping pills to sleep,” says Ratner. “I don’t have to.”

Ratner wants to encourage her friends to at least give cannabis a try before writing it off. “It’s like wine,” she says. “You need to be able to try different products before you find one that works for you.”

Keith Blasius, general manager of Atheneum Cannabis, agrees education is key to lowering the stigma around cannabis use and adds the shop is seeing more and more older customers coming in with questions.

“We have a lot of new customers—or customers who haven’t consumed cannabis since they bought it on the black market way back when—who need help,” says Blasius. “That’s why a well-educated staff and staff training are so important.”

Blasius notes the technology in the vaping industry has become so sophisticated, the temperature can be controlled to match the cannabis strain in order to produce the best results. He adds, that’s one reason it’s so important to watch the training videos created by licenced producers about their products.

“The quality is improving and the pricing is coming down,” says Blasius. “But the education needs to be there, too.”

Blasius says when Atheneum Cannabis first applied to the City of Vancouver for a business licence—and word of its impending opening began to spread—there was some push back from the community. Those protests were mainly made via letters to the city. “But we wanted to get rid of the stigma of a cannabis shop and we knew eventually they’d come around.”

To that end, the shop is well lit, the music is a mix of easy listening and jazz, the décor is clean and bright and, instead of the smell of cannabis, customers are greeted with the scent of aromatherapy.

“You’re not going to see any Bob Marley posters in here,” says Blasius. “We want to prove that we are good corporate neighbours who care about our community.”

Those policies seem to be working. Blasius says two new customers to Atheneum Cannabis are a man and woman in their eighties who wandered in searching out alternatives to pharmaceuticals.

Blasius notes not every municipality in Greater Vancouver is on board with allowing retail cannabis shops. To date, the City of Surrey has no bricks and mortar cannabis businesses.

In response to a request from Cannabis Retailer for an update on where that city stands on the issue of legalized cannabis shops, Surrey’s bylaws department responded with an emailed statement, which said in part, “that the production, distribution, and sale of cannabis is restricted under the City of Surrey’s zoning bylaws.

“If an entity wishes to propose the production, distribution, and/or sale of cannabis in Surrey, they are required to submit a rezoning application for Surrey council’s consideration. Accordingly, Surrey council has granted approval on one such rezoning application to date.”

That application was made by a local company for the production of cannabis infused beverages.

“The final product is sold (wholesale) to the Province of BC,” the email continued. “If a consumer wishes to purchase the product, they may do so at a Province of BC approved cannabis retail store, none of which operate in Surrey at present.”

Meanwhile Blasius says with more research into the health benefits of cannabis, comes more possibilities. “It’s so exciting. So many people I’ve talked to in the business really believe this is good for society,” says Blasius. “They’re truly in it for the right reasons.”