If you’ve noticed more cannabis retailers opening up in quiet neighbourhood areas across your city, you’re not alone. Within a two kilometre radius from my house we’ve already counted at least five shops that are discreetly veiled. You can’t peek through the window currently but most of us know what they are…and if not, well, they are doing what they are mandated to do according to current laws. While there’s still a fair amount of “who knows who to get what” on the streets that are not regulated, we are becoming more educated and aware of what’s out there. Hey, it’s still “buyer beware”. A new shop is set to open along Yonge just north of Lawrence in Toronto and their approach is welcoming and a little more exclusive and inclusive. Erbn Green‘s feel is high-end boutique rather than clinical or a grab and run. The main demographic it will draw? Women like us – newbies to established consumers, who want to feel comfortable in asking all the questions, those who want professional and research-driven advice and knowledge. Also, those who prefer proven higher standards and quality in what they consume and how.

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“Erbn Green is going to provide that welcoming, and approachable atmosphere that the 35+ female demographic is hungry for,” said Farrell Miller, Erbn’s CCO. She goes on to explain that in many existing cannabis retail stores, there is an “Apple Store” sterile vibe, or a collage of different branded displays which mean nothing to the uninitiated. She tells us that Erbn Green is going to provide the best selection of curated products that exist on the LEGAL cannabis market, and offer them an “even playing field” to customers. How are they going to do that? By only offering shelf space to high-quality products vetted by their team of experts.

“It should not be about who has the best branding, best display, etc. It is about who is creating the best product, who is bringing the most value to our customer? Those are the products we will sell, and we will empower our sales staff to engage with customers to help them discover a product that works for them,” Said Miller.

Photo credit: ERBN Green

We’ve been keeping in contact with Miller over the past couple of months in anticipation of the store opening (now confirmed for October 26, 2020) and we are impressed with her professionalism and standards. She’s adamant about working within legal guidelines and transparent with the business. She’s clear about the importance of complying with government regulators – not only for the business to stay within the legal realms but she knows this is an important factor in earning the trust of potential consumers. When it comes to the legal aspect? She’s a stickler and no surprise since she has a background in law.

Miller attended law school at the University of British Columbia where she was inspired by the work of cannabis lawyers like Kirk Tousaw, John Conroy and Paul Lewin who fought for the rights of people to use medical cannabis without fear of criminal prosecution. She tells us she chose Vancouver as a home base for her legal education because the Vancouver Police Department was a progressive organization that stopped making arrests for cannabis possession in 2009.

“In its early days, you could only purchase cannabis from the government as a medical user— and let me tell you, it was not quality stuff,” said Miller.  “So, people would bake it into cookies to get the most out of it, for example, and that was illegal!” It was through a compassionate lens that she approached the cannabis industry back in 2015. “I heard the stories of so many patients who needed it and had a hard time accessing it. It was plainly easier to obtain on the streets, and people were charged criminally for helping others access cannabinoid therapy.”

Miller was fortunate to article under Paul Lewin in Toronto during and after law school, and worked on a number of cannabis cases; pre-cannabis act trafficking charges, illegal production, and some of the notorious cannabis dispensary raids known by police as “Project Claudia”. She successfully obtained peace bonds for more than a handful of young people charged with trafficking a product that was about to be legal.

The last constitutional challenge Miller worked on, was under the former ACMPR medical framework which prevented storefront access to cannabis patients and restricted them to delivery at a fixed address. “I submitted evidence from dozens of patients and experts, which was not challenged by Health Canada at trial. The judge declared the delivery restriction unconstitutional, and granted declaratory relief for the person who was charged,” said Miller.

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She then began consulting with Paul Lewin, on the new Cannabis Act production regulations and helped people understand the licensing process to produce cannabis legally under Health Canada guidelines. The regulations were released in the year she was a recent law graduate and articling student, and was tasked with reading and summarizing them as they came out, and further explaining them to clients. Miller quickly became well-versed in the Health Canada licensing process and eventually joined a full-service scientific consulting firm in downtown Toronto as Director of Legal Affairs.

Prior to law school, Miller had worked with research support services at the University Health Network in Toronto, the largest medical research organization in Canada. There, she worked closely with the Review Ethics Board in the administration of the necessary documentation and record-keeping for clinical trials involving human subjects. With a background in bioethics and clinical trial administration, she brought a diverse background to the cannabis industry. During her time as a consultant, she spoke on panels, sat on committees and working groups on cannabis policy in the U.S and Canada.

Miller also participated in the Canadian Health Food Association’s (CHFA) CBD Working Group, and the American Herbal Products Association’s (AHPA) Cannabis Committee; which included helping to define industry standards for the U.S Hemp Authority’s certification program for growers and processors. As a participant in both groups, she provided feedback as an industry professional and regulatory expert, which helped shape the future of cannabis and hemp legislation.

While Miller was consulting, the founders of Erbn Green approached her with the idea to get into cannabis retail. They struck her as experienced business women who previously ran a successful security company with over 5000 employees. Miller tells us she admired their determination to endure the early days of cannabis retail licensing. “…the days when you had to submit your name to a lottery of tens of thousands of others, and hope that your name is drawn for the chance to apply for a license.”

They didn’t win the lottery, but Miller tells us they took the time to prepare themselves in advance of the application process opening up, by shopping around for commercial retail locations. They were well-positioned with a few locations corporate-owned by the team, when the AGCO allowed members of the public to submit applications this past March 2020.

The team targeted areas where there were no stores able to open under the lottery system, like Picton in Prince Edward County, ON. They were revved up to open in June. However, slight delays happened and their shops were placed in queue. According to Miller, the Ontario government allows the AGCO to only issue five licenses per week – a cap that does not exist for other licensed premises like liquor. Patience paid off and they are now ready to open in North Toronto.

The public may not be aware of all the restrictions on the industry. For example, Miller tells us that products sold in California would not be legal here. “I regularly explain everything from the restrictions on branding and advertising, to the production and licensing of products in the U.S and how that differs here in Canada,” said Miller. “Under our federally legal system, we actually regulate cannabinoids pretty heavily; particularly CBD products. People don’t realize it, but even products with zero THC in Canada, need to be created by a Health Canada licensed facility and sold only in licensed stores. They must also contain the “THC Stop sign” icon, and other packaging guidelines, to make it a legal product.”

Of course, we’ve seen some neighbourhood concerns about legal cannabis retailers opening. Miller hopes that people will understand how the industry works.  “Generally, people have a negative image in their minds about what a cannabis store is, and I would love the opportunity to explain how regulated and licensed stores would benefit any community,” said Miller. “First of all, we are required by law to have 24hr security cameras active on our premises at all times, which actually captures the front door and street view area. If there is ever criminal activity in an area where a licensed cannabis dispensary is open, we can be relied on to provide security camera footage to law enforcement, and we are always willing to help out our communities to that effect.”

Also, without a licensed and regulated store in your area, people are travelling to areas outside their communities to purchase cannabis; which is not socially responsible during a global pandemic, Miller explains.  “People are also ordering unlicensed products from illegal dispensaries online, which deliver to communities across the country. These non-regulated entities cannot necessarily be trusted to take public health into consideration when they are making or delivering their products.”

Finally, unlicensed and unregulated cannabis dispensaries and dealers may not take the necessary steps to verify age before selling, which puts youth at risk.

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So, why is Erbn Green focused on women and with this location opening in such a family-centric neighbourhood?

“Women are very curious about cannabis, and weed moms are the new wine moms,” said Miller.  “A popular term comes to mind; ‘Cali Sober’ which signifies a movement in California, where people do not drink alcohol, and solely consume cannabis.”

In these times of uncertainty and little social contact, she tells us that people are hungry for a vice that they are comfortable to try on their own, to help take the edge off. While the idea of wine would invoke thoughts of a girls’ night out, the idea of kicking back with a vape pen and a bubble bath is a different option for a girl’s night in.

“Women over 35 have a lot of spending power; whether they are career driven or run their households, they make a lot of purchasing decisions. They are also a highly stressed and anxious demographic searching for alternative paths to wellness. As health-conscious and savvy consumers, they want to be empowered with information to make the best purchasing decisions and we want to provide that,” said Miller.

Of course, everyone of legal age is welcomed including those who are just being curious. “We want to show people how easy it is to include cannabis in your life, and in your home. You don’t necessarily need to hide anything; some modern designed accessories can be ‘hiding in plain sight.’ I love introducing people to this unchartered territory of cannabis accessorizing, and educating people on the ways to use cannabis safely and effectively.”

Erbn Green has also developed a system of “taste” profiles that align the scent of the dominant terpenes in cannabis flower, with the common scent profiles of the food industry; sweet, sour, earthy, and spicy. The terpenes are the “essential oils” of cannabis, and help the uninitiated to navigate products to find what best suits each person’s taste.

In addition to the Erbn Green Cannabis stores, their other store concept, the Modern Market will be located next door to some locations and offer a variety of other products like hemp lotions and textiles that are exempt from the controls of the Cannabis Act. Miller explains that they don’t need a license to open this retail store. We’ll keep an eye out for those!

At all Erbn Green Cannabis Co. locations licensed for cannabis will sell the best products available on the legal Canadian cannabis market. Miller tells us their purchasing decisions are made strictly on the approval of their in-house cannabis experts, and new users who have shared positive experiences. All the products are licensed by Health Canada as safe for human consumption and come with the necessary information to dose safely.

Erbn Green is located at 3244 Yonge Street, Toronto. Grand opening is scheduled for October 26, 2020. For more info and for other locations, visit www.erbngreen.com

*Lead in and storefront photos by Libby Roach