Kush Collective – A pre-legalization interview with a startup cannabis dispensary in Calgary

The Extract team met up with the guys behind the beautiful brand at Kush Collective!

Through a generous exchange of knowledge, they helped us understand what happens behind the scenes for the recreational dispensary startups in Calgary.

The Kush Collective team is currently going through an appeal process as their location was put on hold.  For a small business in the Canadian cannabis industry,  recreational dispensaries face high startup costs and risk of approval.   Since conducting this interview, the AGLC has put a halt to recreational dispensary approval due to lack of cannabis available to service the markets needs.

Kush Collective told us competition will be fierce, and expense can easily sink a small business.


Your website talks highly about education, tell me about some of the community events your team has been a part of?

Education is something we really believe in, and we are committed to reaching out to all types of cannabis users. We’ve been engaging not only with potential customers but our new community of Killarney. We’ve attended the Cannabis and Hemp Expo hosted an open house at the community association and participated in roundtable discussions with the city of Calgary. We plan to host events to promote further education through the store, so people can learn more about cannabis.


What is Kush Collective for the Calgarians that haven’t heard about you?

We are deeply passionate pro-cannabis supporters who love talking, learning about, and most importantly education others about cannabis.  We have been vocal advocates in favor of legalization for almost two decades. Now we are starting a retail business to share our love of recreational cannabis with Calgarians.


Which cannabis consumer are going to get the most value from being a Kush Collective customer?

We want to help anyone who wants to try recreational cannabis to have a positive experience, whether they are a first-time user, a long-term cannabis consumer, or someone in between. We consider ourselves experts in cannabis and want to share our knowledge with our customers so w can help them find the right product for them


How are you differentiating yourselves in a market that might become quite saturated?

We take real pride in being Calgarians and promoting local businesses; we believe that’s important to Calgarians, too.

We know we will be competing with big-box stores, but we don’t believe they offer the same meaningful customer service that customers want when buying recreational cannabis. We want to have a personal relationship with each of our customers.

Our staff will undergo rigorous training in addition to any mandated training programs, to better help our customers select the right product for them. We are committed to engaging with and giving back to our community


How do pricing and quality, find a happy medium with Kush Collective?

The products we offer will be carefully selected to ensure we are stocking the best cannabis at the best price. Of course, we will carry products to meet a variety of budgets, but as cannabis enthusiast ourselves, we know that you get what you pay for.


Break down the process in simple terms of getting legalized as a recreational dispensary in Canada.

First and most importantly was completing an intensive application with AGLC, complete with background check, security details, in addition to meeting numerous other requirements.

Having a clear understanding of and adherence to all the municipal, provincial and federal regulations is key. And then, of course, applying for a municipal development permit and business license.


What hardships and limitations do potential dispensaries face?

The biggest limitation for small businesses in the retail cannabis space is finding available locations. The big developers are reluctant to deal with small groups like ours, they usually want prohibitive covenants and rich personal guarantee.

On top of that, huge cannabis companies, liquor stores, second cups, etc. have blanketed the city with cannabis development permit applications, add the 300m separation distance bylaw and we have a situation where it is nearly impossible for small entrepreneurs to find suitable commercial real estate for cannabis

This process is not for the faint-of-heart! It has been a lot of work to get to where we are now, and there is still a lot to go. From finding a location that worked for us, and landlord who understood the market for what it will be, to working with the city to obtain a business license, there have been a lot of challenges. But this is a labor of love – we believe in what we are doing.


How do you believe the cannabis regulatory system could improve to better stimulate the economy and small businesses in Calgary?

Currently, there are a lot of restrictions on marking and advertising. Relaxing some of these regulations will help to further differentiate retailers and eliminate the black market. We are excited about the potential to work with other local businesses to cross-promote our products.

We also think that the City made a mistake be choosing to implement a public consumption ban. We agree with their intent, we don’t want people smoking cannabis around kids, or thick cannabis clouds in our national parks. We think designated consumption areas are a much better solution.

The reality is that people are not going to be using cannabis exclusively in their homes, and with a public smoking bars, they are going to be forced into dark alleys, or their vehicles to consume cannabis. This is exactly the kind of thing we are trying to stop with legalization, so we feel like a public consumption ban is counter-intuitive.

Additionally, this makes it impossible for tourists to use cannabis. Most hotels will not allow cannabis use, and with a public consumption ban, tourists are out of luck. It’s a strange thing to tell people cannabis is legal now, but when visiting Calgary you can’t use it anywhere.


I know that there is some strict guidelines when it comes to advertising and retailing cannabis products, what helped your team pick a location and was there an equation or syllabus you followed?

We have been very careful to adhere to the rules and regulations around advertising our store, and even recreational cannabis products. We wanted to be in a location that was easily accessible to our customers, with free parking, with a modern relaxed feel and well-laid out floorplan.

As legislation nears, advertising rules will become clearer, and we hope to engage our customers across social media platforms.

In regard to product such as edibles and extracts which are still illegal, what are some bottlenecks that you believe could change to promote small business in the cannabis industry locally?

We understand that this is new territory for Canada, and it’s better that legislation around cannabis- in its various forms- is rolled our thoughtfully instead of being rushed and ill-prepared. That’s the best way to eliminate grey and black markets. Enforcement agencies will need to play a major role in cracking down on existing grey and black markets currently, offering recreational cannabis products that are still illegal.


Input to Calgarian policy makers for helping sustain and grow this industry in Calgary?

There needs to be greater balance to allow small and larger companies to compute on an event foothold. We feel that a lot of people are getting into this business with dollar signs in their eyes, and instead emerging entrepreneurs should be based on their merit.


What does the perfect legalization model look like in your head, and how far is it from where we stand in Canada today?

There has been clear favoritism toward large companies and bigger investors, resulting in an unfair playing field for others to enter the cannabis market.

This is huge opportunity to cultivate Canadian and Calgarian business, but there simply hasn’t been the support needed from municipal, provincial or federal levels.

What we gleaned from the states that have approved recreational marijuana, is that local businesses who have had the opportunity to flourish have reinvested in their communities; we fear this won’t be the same for Canada and profits will go elsewhere.


What is one tip for cannabis entrepreneurs taking your same path into the world of recreational dispensaries?

Do Your homework, and make sure this is a business you want to be in. Not simply for a profit but that you care about the industry and the community you serve. All eyes are on Canada, and it’s important that everyone involved in this industry feels that responsibility to set an example.

This interview was conducted in early July.  Since we have tried to contact the boys at Kush Collective to update the status of their location approval.  Our attempts have been unsuccessful.  

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