A Budding Industry – Feature Story on Cannabis in Winnipeg

BY: Nik Kowalski and Matt Kondracki

Weed, the reefer, chronic, kush.

The slang of drug dealers and their customers is now the language of corporate press releases and cooking classes.

The legalization of cannabis began last year and with it came a wave of retailers — both public and privately owned — to serve the new appetite for Canadian weed. 

And the appetite for the drug is huge. Cannabis retailers sold $43 million worth of product in the first two weeks after legalization, according to Statistics Canada.

Now, four months after the Trudeau government legalized recreational cannabis, Winnipeggers can purchase their weed almost as easily as a case of beer.

Glenn Rolfe is a Pineapple Express Delivery driver in Winnipeg. PHOTO: Matt Kondracki.

Retailers aren’t the only ones thriving in the new industry with new businesses and services sprouting up across Manitoba.

One new company is Ontario-based Pineapple Express Delivery. Focused entirely on delivery, they don’t sell cannabis to customers, but instead offer direct-to-home delivery.

Curtis Ling, 39-year-old fleet manager of Pineapple Express Delivery in Winnipeg, is on the front lines of cannabis delivery in the city.

As manager of their team of drivers, Ling runs the day-to-day operations for the company here but is often out in the field as a driver and dispatcher too. He’s someone who “does it all” according to Sarah Seale, managing partner of Cannabis Management Resources.

Ling’s team works out of a blue-roofed depot off Fermor Avenue just east of Plessis Road. Drivers meet in front of a Canadian flag hung across the wall in the reception area, while Ling tracks orders from all over Winnipeg on a desk-sized monitor in his open office.

Back in September, Ling never imagined he would deliver cannabis legally. Fast forward six weeks to the day after legalization, and Ling was featured in a segment that aired on national news.

“I think of who was watching me deliver cannabis,” said Ling referring to his interview with CBC on Oct. 19. “Maybe the Prime Minister was watching me deliver, well, weed. It’s crazy.”

Before PED, Ling was a UPS driver for 17 years. Now, Ling hustles five days a week managing deliveries for multiple cannabis retailers throughout Winnipeg.

“I believe we had over 1,500 deliveries in the first 12 hours,” said Seale, when describing the Oct. 17 rush of cannabis orders in Winnipeg.

Uniformed delivery employees must hand off the cannabis to the customer who placed the order. Leaving their cannabis in a mailbox is not an option.

PED’s 10 Winnipeg-based drivers are all employees, unlike other delivery companies like SkipTheDishes who use contractors for each delivery.

As of today, PED delivers in the Winnipeg region on behalf of Tweed, Delta 9, Meta Cannabis Supply Co., Tokyo Smoke, and Garden Variety. Buyers can choose to get their cannabis delivered to their door from PED, Purolator, and Canada Post.

There’s one big difference that PED is happy to pounce on: same-day delivery.

Purolator and Canada Post’s quickest delivery option is within one business day. But PED customers can pay an extra fee to get their order delivered later that day.

Canada Post’s delivery fee is free when ordering from Tokyo Smoke and $7.95 when ordering from Delta 9. Meanwhile, PED’s same-day delivery fee starts at $9.25 and increases depending on how fast you want the product that day. If customers want their order within two hours, PED charges anywhere from $11-15 for the first 15 km, and added fees for every extra km.

Glenn Rolfe, a 57-year-old PED driver, says their same-day option has been eating up the cannabis delivery market in Winnipeg.

“During the week you can get people ordering one gram or up to their maximum amount [typically 10 grams],” said Seale. “We have some people who order every single day on a continuous basis.”

According to Seale, Mondays and Fridays are the busiest delivery days in Winnipeg.

Seale attributes the high demand to the availability of same-day delivery, referring to one customer’s reply on PED’s social media: “I ordered my pizza and my weed at the same time, and the weed came first.”

The realization that you can get weed legally delivered to your door remains surreal for customers. “What other profession can you show up at 9:30 p.m. in –30 C weather and the customer opens the door with a smile on their face?” asked Rolfe.

Manitoba is ahead of other provinces in the same-day cannabis delivery industry too. Currently, no other provinces have a same-day delivery option for recreational cannabis, which puts Manitoba at the forefront of their work. Ontario, Pineapple Express Delivery’s home province, only allows medical cannabis deliveries.

Michelle Burkowski, 39, and Eric Timlick, 26, believe Garden Variety appeals to the lifestyle of cannabis users in Winnipeg. The shop not only sells cannabis, but plans on offering in-store educational sessions. PHOTO: Nik Kowalski.

Garden Variety, Winnipeg’s newest cannabis retail shop, opened on March 14. The store takes a more casual and lifestyle-oriented approach to their customers, according to store manager Michelle Burkowski, 39.

Their casual approach is clear as soon as you walk inside. The reception desk where they scan ID is backed by a bright green moss-covered pun saying, “our grass is always greener.” After checking your ID, an opaque door opens into the store. Once entering, customers see video screens defining words like “bong, joint, and bowl,” while also showing recipes for THC infused foods like guacamole and peanut butter and jelly.

“We’re not pretending to be medical,” said Burkowski.

The shop’s products fall into four colour-coded categories: focus, sleep, relax, and stimulate.

Eric Timlick, assistant manager at Garden Variety, suggested one potential idea of a sushi chef hosting cannabis-infused cooking classes at the store.

“You’ll learn to roll your joint at one station, and learn to roll sushi at another,” said Timlick, 26.

The shop has plans to introduce yoga and joint rolling sessions.

While Garden Variety’s education plans are not implemented yet, they envision a shop that not only sells cannabis but also educates customers about the drug’s benefits. It’s a dramatic change for an industry that was best known for black market grow-op busts just a few years ago. Now, the business of weed in Winnipeg is emerging as a budding industry of innovation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s