On a day recognized around the world for smoking and celebrating cannabis, the Songhees First Nation swung open the doors of a new retail enterprise it says will provide jobs and a fresh economic stream for its community.
S + S, or Skʷati Sῤaƛ̓ǝŋ, which means Crazy Smoke in Lekwungen, started selling cannabis products and accessories Tuesday out of a new, purpose-built building at 1502 Admirals Rd. It will eventually be moved and fit into a commercial component of a future housing development on the site.
The 4/20 opening on Songhees land will be the first of three retail outlets for the nation.
Crews are preparing two other cannabis stores downtown — in Bay Centre on Fort Street and at 901 Gordon St.
Those stores will be branded as Seed and Stone, and Seed and Stone Songhees Edition, and operated with partner Vikram Sachdeva, who owns several Subway sandwich stores and has a licensed cannabis store in Chilliwack with other locations under development on the Lower Mainland.
Christina Clarke, corporate executive officer of the Songhees Development Corporation, said the nation is awaiting final licensing approvals from the province on the downtown stores.
The province had originally planned to use the Bay Centre site as a provincial cannabis store, but offered it up to the Songhees. The city also eased distancing restrictions for cannabis retail stores in a show of reconciliation.
Clarke said the stores will collectively support 50 full-time jobs and 11 band members are already employed.
“We’re thrilled with that,” said Clarke.
The Songhees expect to be profitable in the S+S store in about three months.
“It’s a point of pride for the nation,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
The new 1,800-square-foot store will also provide an area for the Songhees Seafood and Steam food truck and catering business.
The work of Jessica Joseph, a young Songhees artist, is featured on the glass windows of the storefront.
All of the cannabis retail outlets will eventually feature First Nations art and designs, showcasing the talents of Songhees members.
Clarke said the store, which will be open 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week, carries a “full inventory” of cannabis products, including CBDs, creams and edibles, as well as accessories such as bongs and pipes.
In an interview last year, Songhees Chief Ron Sam said having a share in the cannabis market has “tremendous upside potential for our community,” noting the economic and jobs potential, but also the regulation of cannabis that brings “greater opportunities for education and informed decision making.”
Clarke said federal regulations surrounding cannabis helps to “end of the stigma” over its use and controlled sites for selling it will see people “use it more responsibly.”
“A lot of people use it for therapeutic reasons,” she said. “A lot are not comfortable with pharmaceutical drugs and would rather have a derivative from a natural plant.”
The Bay Centre store will “honour the natural world in a sophisticated, urban context.” The Gordon Street location will align its presence with the growth of Indigenous tourism. Seed and Stone will offer a gallery-quality showcase of Indigenous art and cultural pieces, many of them available for purchase.