Since legalization of cannabis two weeks ago, business at The Downstem head shop has been smoking, if not actually on fire.
Owner Terry Smith says his King Street East store has seen a steady stream of the curious, the excited and the misinformed, all anxious to learn about the joys of cannabis.
“People who you would never suspect would be interested are now coming in to buy a glass water pipe to smoke legal marijuana in front of the TV at night. It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s kind of mind-blasting at times.”
The parade of new customers has turned Smith into a teacher, a role that he tackles with aplomb. Smith, who has the fast-talking salesmanship of a carnival barker, the zeal of a born-again preacher and the knowledge of a scientist, can, and often does, talk for hours about weed.
“I sell knowledge, but they buy products because they know their lives better than I do,” said Smith, describing his job.
Smith said he has been surprised by the age of the customers to his Brockville store.
Most of the new customers are of the gray hair and blue rinse set. Smith tells of an elderly couple in his-and-her walkers, shuffling into his store to ask about cannabis.
Last week a man in his 70s walked into The Downstem, plunked down a newly shipped box of Tweed weed onto the counter, and asked: “How do I smoke this? Fifty years ago they would put me in jail for having this. Now they send it to me in the mail.”
Many of the customers are aging hippies, who haven’t taken weed in 50 years, Smith said. Others have never smoked tobacco, much less marijuana, but they are anxious to give it a try now that it is legal.
The most common questions are about how to grow your own, or about ways to consume weed, he said.
Smith said he is used to explaining things to his older client base. Since opening 3½ years ago, Smith has sold a line of CDB-laced salves, creams and oils that are coveted for their healing and pain-relief properties.
CBD, which has been legal in Canada for years, has been popular among seniors for its medicinal properties, Smith said.
Now that cannabis is legal, interest in medicinal CBD, which doesn’t get you high, has also spiked, Smith said.
Although CBD products have been around for a while, some people were unwilling to try them because of the evil-weed stigma, he said. The new cannabis law means that more people are willing to look at CBD, he said.
Strains of CBD products are used to treat anxiety disorders and the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and dementia, he said.
“They work fabulous and they will change lives,” said Smith, who sells a wide range of CBD products from lip balms to doggie treats.
Smith said he is annoyed by the government’s lack of information and education on the newly legalized product.
The government is merrily mailing weed to people and saying “here you go, it’s legal now,” without making any attempt to teach people how to consume it, he said.
As well, the public is unaware of the new laws. Dozens of people come into Downstem weekly, asking to buy weed, he said. Smith has to explain that he doesn’t sell cannabis – there are currently no retail outlets in Ontario.
It’s no wonder people are confused because the government keeps changing the rules, and they vary from province to province, he said.
“It’s like Newfoundland weather: If you don’t like it, wait five minutes and it will change,” said Smith, whose family originally hails from Newfoundland.
Smith said he is also angered by the snake-oil salesmen – or, rather, hempseed-oil salesmen – who are ripping off customers with the false claim that their product contains CBD.
It doesn’t, Smith said. What people want is hemp oil, not hempseed oil. But the companies are making millions with their bogus claims, he added.
Again, it boils down to a question of education, Smith said.