A new kind of coffee shop is popping up all around Canada and Calgary is no different. Just off the southwest corner of 1st Street and 12th Avenue, are four shops selling coffee to Calgarians. One of those has an unassuming black facade, wide open windows and a bright orange sign beckoning eyes to Tokyo Smoke.

One day, general manager Shane Kuhn hopes customers can get more than a hot cup of coffee.

“Tokyo Smoke kind of separates themselves from that a bit because we are establishing a brand and having the coffee shops first — if they can turn into dispensaries they can put a little more money into it and do whatever they have to make that a reality, but it’s still so much up in the air,” Kuhn said.

Inside, the shop has a modern urban chic feeling around it, all clean lines and contrasting blacks and whites. It is unmistakably cosmopolitan and the menu looks like that of any other coffee shop; yet look closely at the recesses of the walls and merchandise like pipes, bowls and fragrances with names like Hippie Shit are displayed ready for the legalization of marijuana in Canada.

Taking a page from Amsterdam “coffee shops” where the sale of cannabis for personal use is tolerated, Tokyo Smoke is positioning itself as a go to place for recreational use.

The modern look to all their products is to help reduce stigma against cannabis users and it can be seen here with their signature pipes. Photo by Whitney Cullingham.

Tokyo Smoke opened its doors in Calgary in December, 2017 on 12th Avenue. and 1st Street S.W. This is one of the six stores the franchise is currently operating and the first outside of Toronto, with plans to expand to other Canadian cities as well as the US.

“Tokyo Smoke is a Canadian cannabis lifestyle brand,” Kuhn said, “We are mostly focusing on developing the brand right now, [trying] to make it kind of a common household name between the cannabis community.”

Founded by Alan Gertner and Lorne Gertner in 2015, Tokyo Smoke is currently expanding with the media calling them the “Starbucks of cannabis.” Their mission statement is, “A smoke session should be approached with the same thoughtful consideration as preparing a perfect cup of coffee.”

Until legalization is officially implemented, Tokyo Smoke and any other shops thinking of doing something similar can only sell coffee and smoking paraphernalia. Yet, for Kuhn, he hopes the store can help with the education process in the wake of legalization.

“A big thing we are trying to focus on right now is the education aspect of it, like for people who are maybe a little bit new to cannabis, to be a safe comfortable space if they are new to it, get some information that they didn’t know before.”

He hopes it will help fight the stigma associated with cannabis use for first-time users, those who are curious and anyone who is on the fence about recreational use of cannabis.

Tokyo Smoke puts a special emphasis on branding. Each of their locations sell coffee, apparel and cannabis paraphernalia. Photo by Whitney Cullingham.

A safe place to learn about the drug could help the education of new cannabis users after the decriminalization of cannabis takes into effect.

“I think leading up to legalization we will see a lot more people,” Kuhn said. “We are already seeing it now actually where people are like, ‘Yeah I just got into it,’ or, ‘Yeah I want to get into it,’ or, ‘I just got my [medical marijuana] card.’ They can come in here hoping that the staff have some knowledge on cannabis and kind of put them, or point them in the right direction.”

A survey by Statistics Canada on the use of cannabis during the year of 2012 found almost 3.4 million users during a time when cannabis outside of medical use was illegal. When recreational becomes legal that number could easily skyrocket, making places such as Tokyo Smoke for education more in demand.

However, this is all up in the air until legislation and municipal bylaws are cemented as each province and city implements the legalization.

Matt Zabloski is a business strategist with Calgary’s community standards department, and also currently the lead for recreational legalization in Calgary.

Zabloski said, “We have heard some indication from the province and [the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commision] that they’re talking about basically having a standalone store that doesn’t sell anything else. We’ll see what ends up happening with that, like whether or not they’ll allow for sales of things. Like I don’t know if food is going to be in there or accessories, cannabis accessories is going to be allowed. That’s something that I think would be good to have a little more clarification from the province on.”

Each province will deal with the changing times differently, but Tokyo Smoke is keeping that in mind as they continue to expand.

“If they allow cannabis alongside the sale of food and beverage, then 100 per cent it will be amazing to be one of those kinds of coffee shops. People can come here for everything they need, almost goes hand-in-hand like a joint with a cup of coffee, or a really good snack. But if the government decides not to have it that way, if they decide to put up dispensaries like liquor stores or like tobacco shops and you can only get cannabis at that stop, I’m not entirely sure what will happen to this store specifically,” Kuhn said.

Tokyo Smoke is willing to take the risk. The company is currently expanding throughout North America as well as partnering with licensed producers to create specific strain that could potentially be sold throughout their shops.

This article is part of a larger project called “From Farm to Roll”, and can be seen at https://wcowa331.wixsite.com/cannabiscanada

mmorales@cjournal.ca 

Editor: Polly Eason | peason@cjournal.ca