Private cannabis shop finds downtown spot in Saint Andrews

Cannabis Xpress owner Chris Jones says the hardest part of opening a store in Saint Andrews was finding the right spot.

But with the keys in hand, New Brunswick's ninth licensed private cannabis retailer is set to open this week.

Jones is the Toronto-based owner of the Cannabis Xpress chain, which has 14 locations in Ontario and now three stores in New Brunswick, with a location in Grand Bay-Westfield that opened last year, a Hampton store that opened in February and a Saint Andrews location opening Thursday in a storefront at the back of the Kennedy House at 218 Water St., Suite C.

Opening a store in Saint Andrews took "longer than anticipated" due to availability of real estate and finding the right location, Jones said, but a spot was available in the Kennedy House building. Jones says it's a "great location" that's accessible but not highly visible to those who would be bothered by it, which "satisfies everyone."

"I literally just got the keys for this location on June 1," he said. "Once we have access to the store, we open it pretty quick."

The permanent store comes after an unsuccessful request from Cannabis NB to open a mobile cannabis truck in Saint Andrews last June, which it said at the time was to increase access to "safe, legal cannabis" products until the private store could open.

Mayor Brad Henderson said last week that the reason the cannabis truck was turned down was the "concept of a mobile truck," citing tight limits on food trucks in town.

"To go from no taco trucks to cannabis trucks, I think it was quite a jump for council," he said, saying the current application went before the planning advisory committee and the building owner met its terms and conditions.

"Despite how people may have varying opinions, we do have an ANBL downtown in Saint Andrews, and it is a legal (product)," Henderson said. "For those who use that product, to have something locally ... the closest store is St. Stephen, which if you do not have a vehicle could be very hard to get to."

There is a Cannabis NB location in St. Stephen and Stewart Farms, which is a "FarmGate" private retailer authorized to sell its own products. Both are about a 25- to 30-minute drive from downtown Saint Andrews. Jones says he's heard it as an issue when he visits and asks locals about their tastes and purchasing habits.

"A lot of them (say) it is a bit of a long drive ... and if it is too far people just end up buying products from illegal sources," Jones said. "People will start buying from us because we are more convenient and have a wider product selection, and the products are regulated and tested."

Jones said people can be "hesitant to see what comes of it" when a store opens, with concerns around loitering or children having access to the store. He says they're hoping they'll be able to demonstrate that it's a "a professional business, and we have pretty high standards of training and staff."

He said they're looking to benefit from word-of-mouth promotion, including from local staff, and have applied for permission to display an A-frame sign on the street.

The New Brunswick wing of Cannabis Xpress is "really really booming," Jones said, saying that other than finding locations, operations are "far easier" than in Ontario and that they have hired locally. He says the opening of the store in Hampton has been "phenomenal," and staff from that store have assisted in the Saint Andrews' launch with setup and training.

In addition to the nine private stores, three "new format" Cannabis NB locations have opened, with the goal of "reducing the illicit market," Cannabis NB said in April. Jones said that the illegal market is still estimated to account for 40 to 50 per cent of sales in the province, and that he hopes with this latest private store opened, more licences may be on the way.

Cannabis NB spokesperson Emilie Dow passed along congratulations to Cannabis Xpress on the upcoming opening, saying it's part of the agency's evolution "to enhance convenience and access to safe and legal cannabis products" in the province.

"We are pleased to see this new offering in the community of Saint Andrews," Dow wrote. She said Cannabis NB plans to "continue to expand its network" with the right types of locations, saying another "new-format" store is opening in Moncton in the future.

Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal