Holly Herh, Trista Fabi, Laurie Weitzel and Sandra Garsonnin at the grand opening of Earth’s Own Naturals in Fernie. Paige Mueller/The Free Press

Breaking the stigma on cannabis in the Elk Valley

Earth’s Own Naturals, Fernie’s newest cannabis shop, is trying to make buying cannabis and accessories relaxing, easy and natural.

Walking into the shop, you might notice retired beehive boxes propping up shelves made of natural, local pine and salvaged barn wood lining the front counters. The products lay nestled in beans and displayed beside locally made wooden holders, with explanations of each strain printed on paper.

According to owner Laurie Weitzel, “We wanted to maintain that natural theme because we hear from our clients that’s what they like. It makes them feel warm and comfortable in the environment.”

On December 13, Earth’s Own Naturals celebrated their grand opening in Fernie. This is the second location of the shop, with the flagship store having been established in Kimberley in 2017.

Weitzel noted that about one year ago, she wanted to expand her business and thought that another mountain town would be a great opportunity.

After some serious renovations and restorations to the old laundromat building on Eighth Avenue, Earth’s Own Naturals opened the doors to the public. Weitzel sees the restoration of the building as a bit of a service to the community.

“In Kimberley, we’ve always given back to the community,” she said. “Last year, we donated about $10,000 back to Kimberley and Cranbrook areas and so this was partly what we could be doing for the community [in Fernie] was restoring the building. Everyone has great memories of the laundromat. Everyone has a story of coming and doing laundry in the old laundromat so it’s kind of a warm and fuzzy feeling right there.”

A warm, fuzzy and inviting feeling is what the store is going for in general. Weitzel added that it can often be a very weird or uncomfortable feeling for those entering a cannabis store for the first time.

“We want to try and change that stigma if we can and I feel like this space helps that because some people’s impression of a cannabis store is not what this is.”

Aside from a warm and inviting space, Weitzel said that there is a slew of other aspects that makes Earth’s Own Naturals stand apart from the crowd. She noted that as soon as clients start talking with her knowledgeable team, “they feel like they are in good hands.”

“Our team has got excellent knowledge and we educate all the time. If you even want to come in just for an education, without purchasing, we love that opportunity and we welcome everyone to come in and just check us out. Come in and be curious, ask us questions, talk to us… People have lots of questions and they need to feel like they can ask those questions and feel comfortable asking those questions.”

Weitzel noted that there were many Fernie residents visiting the Kimberley location to purchase their cannabis products and that she’s thrilled to be able to offer the same services locally. She encourages people to be curious, and come in and ask any questions they may have. A huge goal for Weitzel and her staff is breaking the stigma around using marijuana.

“I really want to be able to change the stigma of it and I think the only way we can do that is to sit down and to talk about it,” she said.

In fact, Weitzel is talking about cannabis not only in her own stores, but as vice president for the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers (ACCRES).

ACCRES is a trade association formed to support cannabis retailers. It is a non-profit organization with the goal of serving as a positive, proactive advocate to protect and expand business opportunities for private retailers.

“It’s wonderful that Canada has legalized but because it’s such a new industry, there’s a lot of holes in the system so we need a body,” Weitzel explained. “Government doesn’t want to talk to individuals, they want to talk to a trade association. They want to know that you’re supporting ‘X’ amount of retailers and we have been in front of government since 2007 so we’re very well respected.”

According to Weitzel, ACCRES writes policy papers for government and presents their challenges as retailers but also lists recommendations to help move policy in a positive direction. She noted that when policy is being made, ACCRES allows those knowledgeable about cannabis to “sit at the table.”

Right now, ACCRES is just in British Columbia but the goal is “to grow and create chapters in every province so that we can communicate across the country,” said Weitzel. The problem they are facing right now is that cannabis legislation in every province is different, meaning what works for B.C. retailers, might not work for retailers in other provinces.

“If we have individual chapters, then they can manage their challenges within each province and then we can have a national body that speaks federally.”

At the heart of both initiatives, ACCRES and Earth’s Own Naturals, is really a desire to educate people, inspire curiosity and end the stigma around cannabis usage – whether for medicinal or recreational purposes.

“Our grand opening is really saying: ‘we’re open, we’re ready to go so come on in.’ We wanted to meet as many locals as we could and introduce them to us, to our team and our store and how we have things laid out and how we do things.”

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